Monitoring and Detection

Science Center Objects

USGS scientists collect data and develop tools and techniques to minimize potential negative effects of new energy development. These tools are critical for supporting management efforts to monitor and improve effectiveness of how facilities are located, built, and operated.

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Energy and Wildlife program icons

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.
 

Projects below also are grouped into the following categories:

Bats, Birds, and Raptors

Fish and Aquatic Wildlife

Pollinators

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Bats, Birds, and Raptors

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Advances in Estimating Fatalities From Collisions With Energy Infrastructure

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Accurate estimates of bird and bat fatalities from collisions with energy infrastructure can be difficult because carcasses may not be detected or may be scavenged. These estimates, however, are critical to understanding the effects of collisions with energy infrastructure on species populations and devising effective methods to mitigate or minimize fatalities. Accurate estimation is complicated because carcasses may fall outside the search area, be removed by scavengers, or be missed by searchers during surveys. USGS and USFWS are working to develop new tools and improve existing tools to estimate actual bird and bat fatalities based on carcass searches near energy infrastructure. Scientists are also investigating whether accurate and precise estimates of fatalities can be derived from carcass searches conducted at easily accessed areas, such as roads and pads beneath turbines.

 

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Advancing Wildlife Monitoring Technologies Using Weather Surveillance Radar 

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

USGS research in aeroecology relies on advancing radar and other kinds of remote sensing technology to understand the behavior and ecology of flying animals. USGS is using both historical data and present-day technologies to observe wildlife behaviors in response to changing habitats and landscapes, such as wind and solar energy development and artificial light, as well as ecological barriers and extreme weather events. This research can help with the development of tools designed to predict risks to flying animals.

 

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Evaluating Population-Level Impacts of Wind Energy Development 

Science Centers: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center and Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

The impact of wind energy generation on wildlife is commonly approached by monitoring the incidence of mortality resulting from turbine collisions. These mortality events may or may not scale up to observable impacts at a population level. USGS scientists are developing a framework for assessing population-level impacts of wind energy by using abundance time-series data and turbine location maps. The two-part approach first examines whether the timing and placement of turbines on the landscape are coincident with observed population trends at regional scales by using dynamic factor analysis. Next, localized impacts are examined by comparing population trends from sampling locations near wind turbine development with relatively distant locations by using Bayesian structural time-series models. This research can assist conservation managers with wind energy project permitting and the use and interpretation of monitoring protocols for wind facilities.

 

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Evaluation of Offshore Radar-Based Monitoring of Flying Animals 

Science Center: Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

The Icebreaker Wind Project is a pilot, six-turbine offshore wind development proposed for western Lake Erie, 8 miles offshore of Cleveland, Ohio. As part of the environmental regulatory process, project developers gather radar data on the use of project airspace by flying animals during the pre- and post-construction period. At the request of USFWS, the wind developer, and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, USGS scientists evaluated proposed approaches for using radar to track birds and bats in the airspace. The evaluation addresses technical and environmental concerns that bird monitoring associated with other proposed offshore developments may encounter. This assessment helps decision makers implement a best practice approach to evaluating the risk to flying animals near a proposed development site.

 

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Generalized Fatality Estimator (GenEst) Software and User’s Guide

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Numerous fatality estimators have been developed to estimate the number of bird and bat fatalities at wind energy facilities, but failure to meet their inherent assumptions can lead to different estimates of fatality. Working with statisticians who developed several of the estimators presently in use, the USGS, BCI, WEST, Inc., and Oregon State University are developing software that combines multiple approaches under a single generalized estimator (GenEst). GenEst will allow the user to evaluate assumptions regarding input parameters and select the approach that best reflects the situation and data. The applicability of GenEst will not be limited to wind power facilities. The tool is being designed for use in any situation in which the objective is an estimate of a super population for which detection probability is unknown but can be estimated, such as solar facilities, oil spills, fisheries by-catch, and power-line or fence-line fatality rates.

 

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Golden Eagle Migration and Habitat Use

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

USGS is collecting information related to habitat use, home range, and population dynamics of golden eagles in the Central Appalachians, northeastern California, and the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, using various methodologies including GPS-GSM communications telemetry, standard GIS analyses, nest visits, and non-invasive genetic monitoring. The data have been used to model movement and create risk models to assist resource management agencies in evaluating management options for this species. Results can inform resource managers about where and when eagles could be most at risk from disturbances associated with renewable energy structures. Data are being combined with datasets from similar projects to create a framework and baseline to build an effective long-term golden eagle monitoring program in support of adaptive management.

 

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Golden Eagle Monitoring Plan for the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan Area

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

DRECP was developed to provide protection of Mojave and Colorado Desert ecosystems while allowing for the appropriate development of renewable energy projects. USGS and partners developed a research and monitoring plan for DRECP that profiles the ecology and status of golden eagles and their habitats in the area, provides a range of potential sampling options to address monitoring needs, and characterizes an iterative approach to monitoring golden eagles focusing on links between changes in human land-use, nesting, and foraging habitat conditions and population dynamics. A new report outlines options for monitoring the status and population trends of golden eagles in southern California. The adaptive, multiscale scheme of the monitoring framework provides decision makers with a periodic, scientifically rigorous evaluation of the status of golden eagles in the DRECP area and can provide regulatory agencies with information to make conservation policy decisions regarding permitting and siting of renewable energy projects.

 

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Modeling Foraging Habitat Suitability of the Hawaiian Hoary Bat

Science Center: Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center

USGS and University of Hawai‘i at Hilo scientists are using thermal videography and echolocation sampling methods to more directly determine the occurrence and activity of the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, a tree-roosting species. Previous approaches have relied solely on acoustic detection or bat capture, methods that have been inefficient for use in detecting sparsely distributed and vocally cryptic individuals at locations where encounter rates are low. Foraging habitat suitability is being related to bat occurrence, the frequency of feeding events, and insect abundance using multistate occupancy models, which can be more informative than simple models of presence and assumed absence. This approach may allow managers to evaluate the relative importance of different areas to foraging bats and track the effects of habitat restoration efforts over time.

 

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Monitoring and Mapping Avian Resources in Nearshore and Open Waters of Lake Michigan

Science Center: Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

USGS scientists have surveyed pelagic bird use in areas of Lake Michigan during fall and winter periods over 4 years to determine distribution patterns and abundance in nearshore and open water areas for the common loon, red-throated loon, white-winged scoter, black scoter, surf scoter, long-tailed duck, common merganser, red-breasted merganser, red-necked grebe, horned grebe, greater scaup, lesser scaup, and other waterbirds. Efforts are now focused on developing spatially explicit distribution models from aerial survey data of selected waterbirds on Lake Michigan. These data can help resource managers with energy development planning and siting decisions.

 

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Pacific Marine Bird and Mammal Research and Monitoring Programs

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

USGS and partners have gathered information about marine bird and mammal research and monitoring programs into an online database to support environmental risk assessments for species and habitats sensitive to offshore energy activities in the southern California and Washington-Oregon Planning Areas and the Hawaiian OCS of BOEM. The database includes information from programs that assessed distribution, abundance, and biology of marine birds, such as seabirds, waterbirds, sea ducks, or shorebirds, and marine mammals, such as cetaceans, pinnipeds, or sea otters. Much of the information focuses on species protected under the Endangered Species or Marine Mammal Protection Acts. This database can be easily updated as new information becomes available.

 

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Post-White-Nose Syndrome Assessment of Bat Distribution in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast

Cooperative Research Unit: Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

USGS and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in cooperation with USFWS, National WNS Program, National Park Service, U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and National Council for Air and Stream Improvement are using multiyear acoustic data from more than 1,200 locations from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Coast, and from Virginia to New England, to determine post-WNS distribution and the community structure of bats. These data are being used to model current and future potential occupancy from the individual forest to landscape level. Results can be used to inform managers and regulators of the likelihood that a rare, threatened, or endangered bat species may be found in or near wind energy development, surface mining, or oil and gas development activities on public lands. This project can also provide information on the level of effort required for acoustic monitoring of the endangered Indiana bat and threatened northern long-eared bat.

 

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Pre- and Post-Hibernation and Migratory Activity of Bats in the Central Appalachians 

Cooperative Research Unit: Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

USGS and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University used fixed-site, long-term acoustical monitoring near cave systems and along mountain ridgelines and adjacent side slopes in Virginia and West Virginia to determine the timing of hibernation and migratory pulses for the endangered Indiana bat, threatened northern long-eared bat, and eastern red bat. Activities related to date, hourly wind speeds, and ambient temperatures are being analyzed to determine drivers of activity in autumn and spring. These data provide further evidence that operational mitigation strategies at wind energy facilities could help protect migratory bat species and could be used to inform siting decisions for proposed wind energy facilities to lessen the potential impacts on migratory bats that use Appalachian ridges as their primary migration corridors.

 

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Review of Bird and Bat Risk From Wind Development 

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Attempts to measure and mitigate the effects of wind turbines on wildlife have been an integral part of wind energy development. Collision mortality, displacement, and habitat loss can cause population level effects, especially for rare or endangered species. A team of international researchers, including those from the USGS, reviewed studies from Spain, Norway, Canada, the United States, and southern Africa that document the impact of wind energy development on raptors. The researchers gave an overview of raptor species affected by wind farms, discussed monitoring and mitigation strategies, and addressed how studying raptor behavior can inform turbine siting to minimize collision risks. USGS scientists also summarized current pre-construction assessment risks to wildlife from wind turbines, described the number of species and individuals affected by blade-strikes, and discussed how and why pre-construction monitoring is conducted. Several shortcomings were noted in the methods used to assess the risk of fatality at turbines, including the lack of studies to offer evidence for a link between pre-construction surveys and post-construction fatalities.

 

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Spatial and Reproductive Ecology of Brown Pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico 

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

GOM contains a high density of oil infrastructure and a rich assemblage of seabirds, yet baseline data on at-sea distribution and habitat use of these species are poorly understood. The brown pelican is a focal species for studies about risk exposure in the marine environment because of its distribution, behavior, and known sensitivity to chemical and oil contaminants. To assist USFWS, BOEM, State agencies, and the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network in developing management plans and future research and monitoring efforts, USGS is studying colony-specific movement patterns, habitat use at sea, and reproduction for brown pelicans. Movement data collected using GPS satellite tags on 85 adult pelicans breeding in the region can help resource managers assess the spatial ecology of the brown pelican.

 

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The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

Science Center: Fort Collins Science Center

USGS is the lead agency of a multiorganizational program called NABat, or the North American Bat Monitoring Program. NABat members work to better understand the ecological consequences of population decline and risks from continuing and emerging threats, such as white-nose syndrome and wind energy, on 46 species of bats common to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. NABat’s mission is to help resource managers and industry partners map bat distributions, better estimate extinction risk, and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation actions. USGS has developed online data management and collaboration tools for bat monitoring, including services for archiving pre-construction acoustic recordings collected at wind energy facilities. Presently, NABat monitoring data have been collected in 39 States and 10 Canadian Provinces. NABat participants include State and Federal agencies, universities and NGOs, as well as private industry (for example, Duke Energy). Newly developed resources include a protocol for processing acoustic data collected to monitor the impacts of energy development on bats and advanced statistical modeling procedures to interpret acoustic monitoring data for bat population status and trends.

 

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Using Drones to Detect Golden Eagle Carcasses

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

USGS, in collaboration with Oregon State University and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, is investigating the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to detect golden eagle carcasses at wind energy facilities. Research objectives are to use change-detection software to compare ground images taken by drones on separate flights over time to detect the timing of carcass appearance and to evaluate whether detection is affected by vegetation or carcass size.

 

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Using Weather Radar to Detect Bat Colonies in South Texas 

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USGS scientists, using weather surveillance radar data to quantify the stopover distribution of birds migrating through the GOM region, detected partial ring signatures characteristic of bat movements. The scientists determined these signatures represented bats emerging from roost sites located under bridges within 80 kilometers of the Corpus Christi, Texas, radar station. Ground surveys of 8 of the 11 identified possible roost sites determined that 7 of those sites were occupied by Mexican free-tailed bats and other bat species. This study shows the utility of weather surveillance radar for locating bat colonies and monitoring regionwide bat movements.

Birds, bats, and raptors collage

From left: Yawning bat in a group of Indiana bats (Credit: R. Andrew King, USFWS). American avocet and chicks (Credit: Barbara Wheeler, USFWS). Pair of Bald Eagles (Credit: Gary Woods, USACE). Little brown bat (Credit: Ann Froschauer, USFWS).

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Fish and Aquatic Wildlife

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Biotelemetry Studies of Fish Behavior and Passage Through Dams

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

Understanding and quantifying fish behavior is essential for identifying fish passage problems and developing effective passage solutions across hydropower dams and other manmade barriers. Biotelemetry, or using radio and acoustic telemetry to track biological organisms, has emerged as the method of choice for acquiring detailed, individual-based data to quantify passage and critical fish behaviors. Working in collaboration with USFWS, NMFS, DOE, and State agencies, the USGS S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center scientists have adapted and developed advanced telemetry technologies for fish passage studies and statistical analysis methods for fish passage evaluations. These advances can help maximize the return on labor- and cost-intensive studies that integrate fish behavior with hydraulic and physical characteristics of passage structures to improve passage design.

 

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Changes to Infaunal Communities Associated With Deep-Sea Coral and Their Potential Recovery From the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill effected changes in multiple ecosystems within GOM, including coastal and deep-sea ecosystems that support large and valuable commercial and recreational fisheries and numerous threatened or endangered species. A few studies have documented the acute impacts of the spill to deep-sea communities, but long-term changes and recovery of communities have not been assessed. USGS is leading an unprecedented 7-year post-spill assessment of the GOM-OCS deep-sea coral communities that tracks change in coral-associated sediment communities. These results can help inform future deep-sea ecosystem monitoring and restoration activities and can lead to the development of effective adaptive management and conservation strategies for these vulnerable ecosystems.

 

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Distribution and Habitat Associations of Narrowly Endemic Great Basin Toads

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

Several species and subspecies of toads (Anaxyrus spp.) in the Great Basin are endemic to small spring systems, but the ecology of these toads is poorly understood. Entire ranges of these species, including the recently described Dixie Valley toad, are often in areas suitable for geothermal and other energy development. In 2018, USGS, in collaboration with BLM, USFWS, Department of Defense, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, initiated a research and monitoring program designed to better understand the ecology of narrowly endemic toads in the Great Basin. This research can be used to inform land-use and conservation planning efforts for these distinctive toads.

 

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Estimating Fish Abundance Using eDNA

Science Centers: Western Fisheries Research CenterNew York Water Science Center

Environmental DNA (eDNA) quantitative analysis is being explored as a tool for monitoring the distribution
and abundance of species; however, questions remain whether species’ populations can be detected using this method. USGS scientists and partners evaluated different sampling methods and whether eDNA could be used to accurately predict the presence and abundance of several aquatic species, such as brook trout populations in remote streams in upstate New York and sockeye salmon in a small stream in Alaska. Study findings show that eDNA surveys can enable researchers to effectively characterize the presence as well as the abundance of certain species of fish in streams. The studies provide new insights into the use of  quantitative applications of eDNA in conservation and stream management.

 

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Guide for Monitoring Stream Temperature

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Monitoring stream temperatures can help researchers and resource managers quantify the influence of water temperature on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Although many stream temperature monitoring protocols exist, most are written for aquatic specialists. USGS and NPS scientists provided precise and easy-to-understand stream temperature monitoring protocols for nonspecialists. The protocols include instructions for using a specific brand of data loggers (Onset), including launching, checking factory calibration prior to field use, installing in streams for year-round monitoring, and inputting project data into databases.

 

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Gulf Watch Alaska Program for Quantifying Coastal Marine Ecosystem Change

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Oil and gas development and transportation activities are major components of Alaska’s economy, and some of these activities occur along Alaska’s coasts. USGS is engaged in a collaborative marine monitoring program, Gulf Watch Alaska, which documents the status, variation over time, and underlying drivers of change in Alaska’s coastal marine ecosystems. This work quantifies the abundance, distribution, and change in hundreds of marine species, including many of high interest to management agencies. USGS has been heavily involved in studies documenting the effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill on the recovery of the wildlife population. This work provides a context for understanding the potential response of marine ecosystems to energy development relative to other sources of change.

 

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Monitoring Total Dissolved Gas in Hydropower Dams Spills 

Science Center: Oregon Water Science Center

Spill water from dams contains supersaturated dissolved gases, a condition created by the turbulent flow conditions attributed to the dam. High dissolved gas concentrations increase mortality to fish below dams. USGS, in cooperation with USACE, monitors total dissolved gas at USACE-owned dams in the Columbia and Willamette River systems in Oregon. The data from the study are used in real time by USACE dam operators to ensure total dissolved gas levels in spills meet USEPA criteria.

 

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Natural Salmon Recolonization Following Dam Removal

Science Center: Western Fisheries Research Center

Condit Dam on the White Salmon River in Washington State was breached in 2011 and removed completely in 2012, allowing anadromous salmonids access to habitat that had been blocked for nearly 100 years. A multi-agency workgroup concluded that the preferred salmonid restoration alternative was natural recolonization with monitoring to assess efficacy, followed by a management evaluation 5 years after dam removal. In 2016, USGS scientists, in cooperation with the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, assessed juvenile salmonid diversity, distribution, and abundance. The 2016 effort provided the first post-dam smolt and juvenile abundance estimates for coho salmon and steelhead in the White Salmon River as well as the first documentation of coho salmon juvenile production in tributaries upstream from the former Condit Dam site. This monitoring effort can help to better understand abundance trends, distribution, and life history patterns of recolonizing salmonids and assess efficacy of natural recolonization to inform management decisions.

 

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Status of Seabirds and Forage Fish in Cook Inlet, Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Seabird densities in lower Cook Inlet are among the highest in Alaska, and populations were decimated by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Large resident and migratory seabird populations are sustained by local stocks of key forage fish species. Monitoring of seabird populations and forage fish stocks in potential oil and gas lease areas is a BOEM priority, both to mitigate the impacts of development and to assess the impact of potential oil spills. In 2016, USGS initiated new studies to update knowledge gained from seabird and forage fish studies in lower Cook Inlet from 1995 to 2000, in advance of potential lease sales and associated activities in Cook Inlet during 2017 and beyond. These studies are also assessing change in seabird and fish populations following anomalous high temperatures in 2014–16.

 

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Using Genomics to Better Understand Habitat Use of the Atlantic Sturgeon

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

BOEM managers use information on the ecology of the federally protected Atlantic sturgeon in coastal waters to understand the potential impacts from offshore energy development and fulfill obligations required under Federal laws. USGS scientists are developing genomics tools aimed at providing a cost-effective, high-resolution way to characterize the sturgeon population structure and demographics. Scientists have assembled and annotated the complete mitochondrial genome of both the Atlantic and Gulf sturgeon, allowing for detection of Atlantic and Gulf sturgeon eDNA in water. These techniques can allow large numbers of sturgeon to be identified to their river and distinct population segment of origin, and facilitate accurate assessments of Atlantic sturgeon populations. These approaches are widely applicable to stock and impact assessments for a wide variety of imperiled or other species of management concern.

Fish, coral, and toad collage

From left: Salmon jumping up a fish ladder (Credit: Steve Martarano, USFWS). A comparison of normal coral with dead skeletal material covered by typical secondary colonization (right) and a wilting, dying coral covered with oil plume debris. (Credit: NOAA and BOEM). Brook trout (Credit: Jaime Masterson, USFWS). Western toad (Credit: Patrick Kleeman, USGS). 

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Pollinators

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Impact of Biofuel Crop Production on Pollinators in the Northern Great Plains

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

USGS, in cooperation with USDA, is quantifying how recent reductions in USDA conservation program enrollments affect pollinator habitat. Scientists are also developing a risk assessment model to identify what portions of the northern Great Plains have undergone the most substantial land-use changes due to biofuel crop development while also supporting the highest density of commercial beekeepers. This study addresses several of the key information needs to better understand, minimize, and recover from pollinator losses.