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This month, we recognize two WERC scientists for their decades of research on endangered songbirds, and the geology and hydrology of mountain ecosystems.

Barb Kus Profile WERC
Dr. Barbara Kus holding a Least Bell's Vireo, an endangered species. (Credit: Suellen Lynn/USGS. Public domain.)

On May 18, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized USGS ecologist Dr. Barbara Kus as one of its 2017 Recovery Champions. Annually, USFWS selects two researchers from major geographic regions across the nation to honor with this award. Each chosen scientist has contributed invaluable work and knowledge toward the recovery of threatened and endangered species.

Kus’ program at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center studies endangered songbirds, including the least Bell’s vireo (pictured; Vireo bellii pusillus), from southern California to Baja California, Mexico. Once common, the least Bell’s Vireo declined to just 300 breeding pairs in California by the time it was listed as “endangered” in 1986. Some of the greatest threats facing its populations, both then and now, include habitat loss to human development,invasive plants, and brood parasitism by the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater).

For the past 30 years, Kus has worked diligently to shed light on the distribution, ecology, demography, and genetics of the least Bell’s vireo, and understand how it uses­ restored habitat and responds to other management actions to reduce threats. Her findings have guided and informed plans to lead least Bell’s vireo numbers back to recovery. Today, the bird’s numbers have risen to nearly ten times what they were in 1986.


Photo of WERC scientist emeritus Mary Ann Madej
Dr. Mary Ann Madej. (Public domain.)

The Geological Society of America recently elected WERC emeritus Dr. Mary Ann Madej as a national Fellow, honoring her decades-long commitment to understanding and sharing geoscience with the scientific community and the public. At WERC, Madej exercised her expertise in geomorphology to explore the complex relationships between mountain forests, soils, rivers and streams, and carbon storage. In more than 60 publications, she provided scientists and resource agencies such as the National Park Service with insight into how natural occurrences, like landslides, and human activities influence the natural functioning of mountain ecosystems.

Today, Madej continues to share her expertise in geology and hydrology with staff at Redwood National Park and committees overseeing the restoration or protection of rivers and coastal ecosystems in northern California. She also delivers guest lectures at Humboldt State University, and takes an active role in increasing public understanding of river science.

For more on Madej’s career with the USGS, read our story “Celebrating North Coast Geomorphologist Mary Ann Madej.”

Madej will be officially recognized as a Fellow during the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Indianapolis, IN.

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