Hurricane Portfolio


Science Center Objects

Research conducted as part of the CRU program is determined, approved, and supported by each unit’s coordinating committee composed of representatives from the USGS, one or more of the respective State fish and wildlife agencies, the host university, the Wildlife Management Institute, and the USFWS. The stakeholder-driven nature of the program’s research portfolio is designed to ensure that the science aligns with the USGS’s strategic goals and serves the needs of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the States, as well as the needs of their strategic conservation partners. Below are just a few examples of an important part of the CRU program’s mission.


Current and Recent Research

A Geographic Information System-Based Rapid Assessment of Geographic Distribution and Habitat Conditions of the Endangered Puerto Rico Plain Pigeon After Hurricane Maria

Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The plain pigeon is a large arboreal columbid of open woodlands of the Greater Antilles. The subspecies of plain pigeon in Puerto Rico is considered rare and is listed as endangered. Hurricane Maria moved across the island of Puerto Rico and across the center of the region occupied by plain pigeon, including the municipalities of Cidra, Aguas Buenas, Comerio, and Naranjito. This research used a spatial modeling approach to assess hurricane effects to plain pigeon habitat and quantify damage to forest cover, including defoliation and loss of canopy. Plain pigeon numbers were negatively affected by Hurricane Maria, and surveys conducted for this rapid assessment by project personnel and cooperators suggest plain pigeon detections were reduced by more than 50 percent after the storm. Damage to plain pigeon habitat in the municipalities encompassing the study area was widespread with varying intensity depending on particular sectors in each municipality. The results could be instrumental for informing the next phase of research on posthurricane geographic distribution, movement, and dispersal to fully assess the effects of Hurricane Maria to the long-term recovery of the plain pigeon. 

Rapid Assessment of Geographic Distribution and Habitat Conditions of the Critically Endangered Puerto Rico Sharp-Shinned Hawk After Hurricane Maria

Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk is an endangered woodland raptor of Puerto Rico. Individual populations are small and mostly known to occur on montane forest reserves on the island. Information is lacking on sharp-shinned hawk population status and use of private lands, particularly the coffee growing regions of the Cordillera Central. In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and caused extensive damage and alteration of forest structure, including loss of tree branches (for example, nesting structures), the opening of the forest canopy (about 90 percent of canopy loss), and a consequent increase in understory and midstory cover. Consequently, posthurricane forest conditions resulted in less available suitable habitat for the sharp-shinned hawk. This rapid assessment project quantified and documented initial damage to the vegetation structure of the Maricao, Guilarte, and Toro Negro Forests. As a result of the documented physical and structural damage, many basic ecological processes such as microclimates, rainfall patterns, nutrient cycling, and litter fall could be altered. Given the precarious situation of this endangered island raptor, the results could be critical for identifying sharp-shinned hawk survival and movements after Hurricane Maria to avoid the extinction of this critically endangered species.

Natural Resources Conservation Service Habitat Enhancement and Best-Practices Program—Opportunities to Maximize the Presence of Pollinators and the Positive Effect of the Program on Natural Resources and Coffee Growers

North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Land-use patterns in Puerto Rico have severely fragmented forests island wide, threatening species persistence through habitat isolation and declining habitat quality. Habitat protection is expensive and may exclude alternatives that yield desirable conservation outcomes. Incorporating nonprotected habitats (for example, restored-shade coffee plantations) into strategy habitat conservation initiatives is a viable strategy to enhance species persistence and best-management practices (for example, pollinators) without affecting the economic bottom line of landowners. This project can inform decision makers of the USDA–NRCS (Caribbean) and the USFWS on where and when to invest shade-restoration efforts in the central mountainous region of the island. Alternatives can be ranked by costs and benefits in terms of landscape habitat connectivity and redundancy and, ultimately, species persistence.

Collaborators: USDA–NRCS (Caribbean) and the USFWS Caribbean Field Office.

Association of Flow Regime with Fish and Invertebrate Assemblages in Caribbean Streams and Rivers 

North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The flow regime (in other words, the rate and timing of water flow) is a central physical factor regulating the dynamics of biotic communities in stream and river ecosystems. Determining optimal flow regimes that meet societal demands for water resources while sustaining and enhancing aquatic life is especially applicable to tropical island aquatic ecosystems, and the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico is an ideal landscape upon which to empirically research such dynamics. Recent destructive tropical storms in the Caribbean warrant and facilitate the study of extreme disturbance, such as flooding and drought, and the need to plan adaptation strategies is critical. The goal of this project is to determine how streamflow dynamics affect aquatic communities in Puerto Rico. The results can be used to develop environmental flow prescriptions to sustain and enhance aquatic life in streams and rivers of Puerto Rico.

Fishery Population and Habitat Assessment in Puerto Rico Streams

North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Much information on the life history, distribution, identification, biology, ecology, conservation, and management of Puerto Rico fishes exists in the literature; however, a readily accessible, synthetic collection of the information is not available to fisheries managers. The goals of this project are to compile and synthesize the most relevant information on the freshwater and diadromous fishes of Puerto Rico and to publish it in a comprehensive book. These research findings could be supplemented by previous research and investigations published in the primary literature, and various agency reports on the relevant species and habitats could also be included.

Characterizing Uncertainty in Changing Precipitation Regimes for Ecological and Hydrological Applications in the Southeast and the Caribbean United States

North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Changing precipitation, such as changes to rainfall intensity or prolonged drought, threaten the natural and built environment. Changes in local to regional precipitation is a result of complex interactions within the climate system, and better understanding how these climate system processes change in a warmer climate requires special attention to regionally relevant atmospheric processes. Climate change simulations are typically at spatial scales (>100 kilometers), and it is well known that climate models are unable to resolve important precipitation processes at these coarser resolutions, especially with respect to precipitation extremes. This research uses high-resolution regional climate models at relevant spatial scales to better characterize, quantify, and understand changing precipitation processes as the climate warms. The research uses a co-production framework where stakeholders inform the design of the high-resolution climate model experiments while creating data relevant to the needs of ecological and hydrological applications within the Southeast and Caribbean United States.

Collaborators: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Highway Administration, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Developing a Long-Term Acoustic Monitoring Program and Projected Species Distribution Under Future Scenarios in the Caribbean

North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Land-use patterns and projected global warming represent two major drivers that induce population declines and range contractions of many resident avian and amphibian species in Puerto Rico. This project intends to create species distribution maps for bird and anuran (frog) species that are critically endangered, vulnerable, or data deficient and can use future climate scenarios to determine how their distribution may change in the future. Present protected areas will not suffice to safeguard species of great conservation need under climate change; therefore, decision makers might consider establishing larger protected areas, buffer zones, and connectivity between protected areas. This work provides State and Federal conservation agencies with a blueprint to frame habitat conservation strategies.

Collaborators: University of Puerto Rico (Rio Piedras), the USGS Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, and biologists of the Science Applications and Caribbean Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Effects of Global Change on Biotic Resistance, Resilience, and Ecosystem Services in Caribbean Fish Assemblages, Fisheries, and Aquatic Ecosystems

North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Understanding and planning for the effects of disturbances, such as extreme weather events, on natural resources may help managers respond to the effects of extreme events more effectively. The diversity of freshwater fish species in Puerto Rico may provide natural biotic resistance and resilience to colonization by nonnative species after disturbances; however, this has not yet been studied in Caribbean island freshwater ecosystems. Puerto Rico provides an ideal study location to test this hypothesis in Caribbean fish assemblages and apply the results to other similar closed freshwater island systems. The objectives of this research are to (1) determine changes in stream and river fish assemblages over time at multiple temporal scales (for example, seasonal, annual, and decadal), (2) examine fish assemblages and fisheries dynamics in relation to biotic resistance from exotic species invasions while relating changes to landscape (for example, dams and reservoirs) and climate effects, (3) project changes in fish assemblages and their ecosystem services in the future, and to determine the effects of changes in fish assemblages on the community and stakeholders. Results can be used by regional stakeholders to help guide strategic planning efforts.

Collaborators: South Carolina State University, and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

Tracking Atlantic and Caribbean Seabirds

South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Many species of seabirds breeding in the Caribbean occupy waters off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the 
United States during some part of the annual cycle. As marine spatial planning becomes a pressing issue in the region, data are needed to enhance understanding of the seabird community in the South Atlantic Bight and the Gulf of Mexico. Although current ship-based and aerial surveys are the standard methods used to measure abundance and distribution of birds at sea, each is a population-based survey that provides information without regard to individual variability or colony of origin. Researchers are deploying tracking devices to measure movement patterns of seabirds in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and western north Atlantic. Data from individual tracking efforts could allow researchers to assess variability in movements and use patterns, fidelity to specific marine locations, and the relation between marine use areas and breeding locations and population trends at the breeding grounds.

Collaborators: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, local NGOs, and universities throughout the Caribbean.

Early Detection and Rapid Response to the African Walking Catfish in Puerto Rico—Identification and Removal of a Threat to Endemic Species and Minimizing Risk to Continental U.S. Expansion

Tennessee Cooperative Fishery Research Unit

Invasive species risk ecological communities. In Puerto Rico, African walking catfish were recently discovered as a new invasive species. The goal of this project is to use environmental eDNA to sample streams and help inform where physical removal efforts of catfish should be allocated. Investigators are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serivce and University of Puerto Rico to identify removal and monitoring locations. The outcomes of the project could help inform control strategies for this invasive species.

Collaborators: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serivce and University of Puerto Rico