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Monitoring boreal avian populations: How can we estimate trends and trajectories from noisy data?

December 31, 2019

Substantial effort has been dedicated to developing reliable monitoring schemes for North American bird populations, but our ability to monitor bird populations in the boreal forest remains limited because of the sparsity of long-term data sets, particularly in northerly regions. Given the importance of the boreal forest for many migratory birds, we set out to (1) summarize the main challenges associated with monitoring avian populations, (2) describe the available statistical tools for population monitoring and their applications, and (3) identify future directions to overcome current challenges in monitoring bird populations in the boreal forest. Defining and delineating populations of interest and identifying the drivers that affect those populations present the greatest current challenges. This is because migratory birds may be affected by many population-limiting processes at different stages of their annual life cycles. These factors are often hierarchically structured and can influence populations at the local, regional, or continental scales. Some of the challenges associated with delineating populations and identifying population drivers can be addressed via the plethora of sampling and analytic methods available to examine population change over time. Choosing the proper analytic methods depends on the goals of the study and the nature of the data such as single or multiple populations, repeated occurrence or count-based surveys, or demographic rates. Recent advances in hierarchical and integrated population models make these analytic approaches some of the most promising avenues for the development of future methods. However, these tools require large data sets, and acquiring sufficient data on bird populations and potential explanatory variables is difficult in the boreal forest. If the current challenges to monitoring birds in the boreal forest are to be overcome, serious effort should be dedicated to integrating existing data and making them accessible. Enhancing survey effort through multispecies surveys will also play an important role. Implementing spatially balanced sampling plans with a rotating panel design could balance the trade-offs between spatial versus temporal replication at an affordable cost. Improving the accessibility of environmental covariates that are spatially and temporally explicit would also enable development of mechanistic population models that improve our understanding of migratory bird population dynamics. Finally, given that long-term monitoring programs can take many decades before delivering reliable population trends and that organizational priorities often change over time, we suggest that collaborative efforts will help ensure the long-term survival of new monitoring programs.

Publication Year 2019
Title Monitoring boreal avian populations: How can we estimate trends and trajectories from noisy data?
DOI 10.5751/ACE-01397-140208
Authors Christian Roy, Nicole L Michel, Colleen M. Handel, Steven Van Wilgenburg, Curtis Burkhalter, Kirsty A B Gurney, David Messmer, Karine Prince, Clark S Rushing, James E Saracco, Richard Schuster, Adam C. Smith, Paul A Smith, Peter Solymos, Lisa A Venier, Benjamin Zuckerberg
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Avian Conservation and Ecology
Index ID 70211674
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB