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Cara J

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  1. Protected areas with more biodiversity tend to have more tourists, according to new research. That popularity can mean more money for conservation and help bolster human interest in wildlife, but it can also raise other concerns. “The balancing between protecting biodiversity and fostering ecotourism is a global challenge,” said Min Gon Chung, a PhD candidate in Michigan State University’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and lead author of the study published in Ecosystem Services. “However, there was little quantitative research to examine the relationship between biodiversity and ecotourism worldwide.” In the study, Chung and his colleagues collected visitor numbers in 929 protected areas around the world. They also took note of the biodiversity in those areas, the age of each area, its elevation and other factors. The team found that with each 1 percent increase in biodiversity in protected areas, nature-based tourism rose 0.87 percent. Researchers also found that people tend to visit areas that are older, larger, more accessible from urban areas and at higher elevations. These conditions “make for more comfortable climates that can be a relief from hot cities in the summer,” Chung said. They also looked at socioeconomic factors and found protected areas surround by [...] View the full article
  2. Santa Rosa, California is well known for vineyards, arts and culture. But the locals know that one of the many benefits the city has to offer is outdoor recreation. Trione-Annadel State Park is among the area’s most popular parks, with 5,500 acres of rolling hills, streams, meadows and woodlands. The Ledson Marsh area of the park started out as a reservoir to water eucalyptus trees, but it is now home to cattails, tules, native grasses, and a variety of critters, including salamanders, snakes, lizards, rabbits, turtles, scorpions, and frogs. The marsh’s most prized species is the threatened California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii). In October 2017, the Nuns wildfire ripped through Ledson Marsh leaving charred vegetation and wildlife behind. While prescribed burns are an important land management tool that can benefit an ecosystem and provide a measure of safety for surrounding communities and firefighters, severe wildfires can damage soil, watersheds and water quality — affecting people and wildlife. Prescribed burns are controlled, researched and planned. They are slow-moving ground fires that allow area wildlife time to relocate. Although there could be loss of individuals, it does not negatively impact wildlife populations. Wildfires, on the other hand, are often so fast moving [...] View the full article
  3. The Bureau of Land Management has released the final environmental impact statement and proposed plan amendments for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) conservation on public land in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. The recent revisions, which came as a result of a secretarial order from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year, allow for more energy development and mineral extraction and remove restrictions from hundreds of thousands of acres of identified sage-grouse priority habitat areas. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the greater sage-grouse warranted protections under the Endangered Species Act, but over the next several years, federal agencies, states and nonprofits worked together to developed protections to conserve the species without listing it under the ESA. As a result, Interior announced in 2015 that the sage-grouse would not require listing. That year, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service also finalized their sage-grouse conservation plans. The BLM’s 2015 plan, which covered over 70 million acres in 11 states, identified 10 million acres of “sagebrush focal areas” — habitats deemed critical to the bird’s survival — and placed restrictions on the activities that could occur in these areas. The revisions would remove the protections from most of these [...] View the full article
  4. Donald Trump has a moth named after him. Barack Obama can claim a spider. It’s not unusual for newly discovered species to be given unlikely scientific names, but usually those names are bestowed by the discoverers. Should they go to the top bidder instead? Last Saturday, the Rainforest Trust celebrated its 30th anniversary with what it called “the largest species-naming auction in history.” Naming rights for 12 species were auctioned off, raising $182,500 to fund the organization’s conservation work. On the auction block were four frogs, four orchids, a forest mouse, a trap-jaw ant, a salamander and a legless amphibian known as a caecilian. “All Proceeds will be matched and will go directly towards protecting the ecologically rich homes of the flora and fauna being named, areas where there are likely other unknown species that enrich our planet and could have immense benefits to mankind,” the Rainforest Trust announced. But the practice has its critics. “There are so many possible ways that it can go badly,” entomologist and taxonomist Douglas Yanega told the New York Times. Click here for more from the Rainforest Trust and here for the New York Times article. View the full article
  5. Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has proposed a hunting season for double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auratus). Provincial management of cormorants varies, with some allowing hunting and other managing the populations through depredation permits or culling. Double-crested cormorants are native to the Great Lakes region. Populations declined significantly throughout the 1900s due to both unregulated harvesting by humans and environmental contaminants. In the 1970s, with pollution controls and other laws protecting the birds in place, populations rebounded. Recent estimates indicate the current population of double-created cormorants in the United States and Canada is about 730,000 birds. Cormorants are opportunistic and generalist feeders that consume a great deal of fish, often causing conflict with the fishing industry, recreational anglers and the aquaculture industry. The birds nest in colonies along waterways, where their high densities can have adverse effects on vegetation, stripping trees of leaves and covering surfaces with guano. Under the ministry’s proposal, the double-crested cormorant would be listed as a game bird and an open season would be established across the province from March 15 to Dec. 31 each year. Hunters would need an outdoors card and small game license to hunt double-crested cormorants. The proposal would also establish a [...] View the full article
  6. Northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) have been declining mysteriously throughout their range. In Texas, biologists have watched their numbers fall for three decades, but they’ve been unable to determine why. In an effort to see if pesticides could be contributing, researchers looked at specimens collected in three areas in Texas and found evidence of neonicotinoid insecticide exposure. “That confirms what we think we know: that neonicotinoid exposure is one of the factors that contributes to bobwhite declines in the state and very likely other places,” said TWS member Miguel Mora, a professor at Texas A&M University and a co-author on the study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. “That cannot be taken away.” The research was a follow-up to a previous study in which Mora and other biologists concluded that “neonicotinoid use was significantly negatively associated with bobwhite abundance” in five areas in Texas where farmers commonly use the pesticides. Looking at the high plains, rolling plains, Gulf Coast prairies and marshes, Edwards Plateau and the South Texas plains, the researchers found the birds’ abundance dropped in the time after the pesticides were introduced. “These pesticides were first used in Texas in the mid-’90s, and that’s when a sharp decline [...] View the full article
  7. Bustling cities like Chicago are not usually known for their wildlife, but Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii) and sharp-shinned hawks (Accipiter striatus) have been establishing populations in the city. In Chicago, researchers say, they’re drawn to backyard bird feeders — or at least, they’re drawn to prey on the birds that feed at them. “People have seen hawks in urban areas a lot for the last 20 to 30 years,” said Jennifer McCabe, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the recent study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “People haven’t looked at what’s allowing them to colonize or stay there.” In the study, a research team took advantage of a citizen science dataset, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, to determine the extent to which hawks were flocking to feeders and their reasons for doing so, including food availability. The citizen scientists who were involved followed a protocol, recording birds that showed up at their feeders and taking note of how long they were watching. McCabe and her colleagues originally thought the hawks would be driven by tree cover in urban and suburban areas. In past research in Europe, afforestation in suburban and [...] View the full article
  8. The presence of humans on trails — not the trails themselves — cause the most disturbance to forest birds, according to recent research. In a study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, a research team looked at the effects on bird species of both forest trails and the amount of human recreation on those trails. They wanted to see if it was the trails themselves or the people on them that were disturbing the birds the most. “While looking at articles investigating trail or road effects on birds, contradicting results have been found, and we thought that the effect of a trail might heavily depend on the human use intensity,” said Yves Bötsch, a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Ornithological Institute and lead author of the study. To conduct the study, the team assumed that birds farther away from trails were less affected by the trail itself and by humans on the trail. They surveyed breeding birds at two different distances from trails, recording every bird they heard or saw. To look at the effects of different human trail use, they looked at four different forests in Switzerland and France, which all had trails for recreation. Two had higher [...] View the full article
  9. New research has discovered that the combined impact of deforestation and wildlife exploitation on bird numbers is severely underestimated and could lead to some species becoming extinct. Scientists from the University of Sheffield and the National University of Singapore focused on Sundaland, a hotspot of biodiversity in Southeast Asia where habitat loss, and hunting and wildlife trades are particularly intense. When loss of forest habitat and bird trapping in the region were examined together, 308 forest-dependent bird species showed a much higher than average population loss than when the threats were accounted for separately. The research, conducted between 2016 and 2017 and published recently in Nature Communications, also suggests that about 50 to 90 of forest-dependent species in the region, such as the ruby-throated bulbul and white-crowned hornbill, will be extinct by 2100. The study calls for the threats to biodiversity to be considered in combination with each other in order to implement effective conservation measures. While the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been tracking the different forms of threats to wildlife, the assessments tend to look at each form of threat separately. However, these threats are interconnected and the combined impact could be more severe than currently estimated. Dr William Symes, from the National University of Singapore, says: “Recent extinctions like the passenger pigeon and the dodo present common traits like the simultaneous combination of habitat loss and active hunting. This fatal combination of ingredients is present for dozens of unique bird species in Sundaland. At current rates, vanishing forests and enormous trapping pressures are likely to drive many of them to extinction in the near future.” Their evaluation revealed that 89% of the 308 forest-dependent bird species studied had experienced an average habitat loss of 16% due to deforestation. They also estimated that wildlife exploitation had led to a 37% decline in mean population on average. Among the bird species studied, the researchers also identified 77 ‘commercially traded’ species that are exploited more frequently. They found that the estimated average decline for these exploited species was 15.3% from deforestation alone, but when combined with the effects of exploitation, the estimated average decline was drastically increased to 51.9%. In addition, the assessment of the combined impact of deforestation and exploitation in the study suggests that a total of 51 species should be listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable – nearly doubling the number currently listed by IUCN. “Our study highlights the importance of considering the impact of major conservation threats in combination,” said Dr David Edwards from the University of Sheffield. “Recent habitat loss and exploitation combine to drive dramatic extinction risks to the forest specialist species of Sundaland. Without urgent policy intervention to curb deforestation and slow the quantities of birds entering the cage bird trade, many species are likely to be lost. Failing to account for these combined threats can lead to a major underestimation of threats in the IUCN Red List assessments.” Co-author Assistant Professor Roman Carrasco from the National University of Singapore adds: “Our technique of evaluating the combined threats can be applied to other tropical forests facing similar threats, to facilitate the development of effective conservation policies. Co-ordinated efforts to curb commercial exploitation and slow deforestation, for instance, can limit the extinction of bird species.” View the full article
  10. A team of international scientists has discovered why brown tree snakes have become one of the most successful invasive species. The research team, led by University of Queensland scientists, has been studying why this species, a type of cat-eyed snake, has been so effective at devastating native bird populations on the island of Guam. Their results were published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution. The brown tree snake is native to eastern and northern coastal Australia, eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and a large number of islands in northwestern Melanesia. This one species has caused the local extinction of most of the Guam’s native bird and lizard species. It also caused ‘cascading’ ecological effects by removing native pollinators, causing the subsequent decline of native plant species. Associate Professor Bryan Fry from the university’s School of Biological Sciences said the takeover of Guam began when the brown tree snake was introduced on the Pacific island during World War II. “The snake hitchhiked on troop carriers from the Australian region and has since driven multiple native bird species into extinction, with only three species now found on the island,” he said. “The snakes’ impact was so devastating, it now ranks among the worst pests of all time.” In Guam’s forests, 10 out of 12 original forest bird species have been lost. The remaining two are considered functionally extinct. The team, including University of Queensland PhD students Daniel Dashevsky and Jordan Debono as well as researchers from Florida State University, investigated the species’ toxin, which is particularly venomous to birds. “The brown tree snake’s venom, while not dangerous to humans, is 100 times more toxic to birds than to mammals. It contains a toxin that’s made up of two smaller toxins joined together, a feature that was believed to be unique to brown tree snakes. Daniel and Jordan’s research has revealed that this is not the case and that any cat-eyed snakes belonging to the genus Boiga would have caused similar devastation. It’s just that this particular species was transported to Guam by accident,” Dr Fry said. Cat-eyed snakes evolved in Africa and rapidly spread across the Indian subcontinent, throughout South-East Asia and to Australia. The team discovered that the snake’s toxin type was responsible for its explosive natural spread. Dr Fry continues: “For the last 80 years or so, for the brown tree snake at least, this biological advantage has been aided by the introduction of air travel. The United States government is still flying military planes from Guam to Hawaii, and there is therefore the potential for the snakes to hitchhike. They have been intercepted in airports in Hawaii airports in the past, so if these direct flights are allowed to continue, there’s a possibility they could get to Hawaii and wipe out the birds like they did on Guam. Now we know more about the snake’s basic biology, we can help in developing a smart approach to preventing and managing this and other invasive species.” View the full article
  11. What would a barn swallow be without barns? According to recent research, maybe nothing at all. After studying the birds’ DNA, researchers believe it may be impossible to separate barn swallows’ evolution from the human landscape in which they evolved. “It’s an example of humans really profoundly affecting nature and wild populations,” said Chris Smith, lead author of the study in Molecular Biology. After studying the birds’ genome, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder believe that the barn swallows’ evolution is tied to human presence. “We probably indirectly affect all species on earth, but this is a drastic example of humans shaping biodiversity on earth,” said Smith, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology and the Interdisciplinary Quantitative Biology program at the University of Colorado. Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) exist across the Northern Hemisphere. Their characteristic mud cup nests are not just a common sight on the sides of buildings and bridges — they’re rarely found on anything but human structures. That had researchers wondering how much of a role humans and their buildings may have played in the birds’ evolution. “Barn swallows nest on human structures almost exclusively,” Smith said. “We know their ecology is tied to [...] View the full article
  12. An analysis of Google searches suggests public interest in conservation is on the rise. Using an adapted version of Google Trends, Princeton University researchers found online interest in conservation topics, like “biodiversity” and “environmental protection,” was similar to interest in poverty. Overall, they found, the number of Google searches for conservation-related topics has increased since 2004 and continues to rise, and interest in conservation isn’t being displaced by interest in climate change. “The public pays attention to both topics at the same time,” researchers wrote. “Conservation scientists should nurture this growing interest and transform it into actual support for conservation by redoubling efforts to present objective, evidence‐based findings about conservation in an accessible, engaging, and relatable way. Such efforts are crucial in a time of increasing political polarization, reduced funding, and deliberate misinformation campaigns.” Read more on Mongabay here, and read the study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment here. View the full article
  13. Each spring, an estimated 52 million blackbirds migrate north into the northern Great Plains of the United States. In the fall these birds and their offspring, totaling 75 million, drift southward feeding on sunflower, corn, rice and other grain crops, costing farmers millions of dollars. Scientists at the USDA-Wildlife Services’ National Wildlife Research Center have long-standing partnerships with private companies and industry groups to investigate nonlethal bird and rodent repellent compounds, formulations, and application strategies for reducing wildlife damage. One such partnership with Arkion Life Sciences has resulted in a new repellent strategy and a suite of nonlethal repellent products that use a naturally-occurring compound called anthraquinone, or AQ. AQ was first patented as a bird repellent in 1944 to reduce bird damage to agricultural crops. At that time, the assumed mode of action was post-ingestive stress (an unpleasant sickness in the birds that eat it). Recent NWRC-Arkion research has shown that AQ can also cause avoidance behaviors in birds through visual cues related to the compound’s absorption of the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum. “Birds don’t always like what they see,” states NWRC research wildlife biologist Dr. Scott Werner. “Our studies with captive blackbirds have shown that the birds rely on [...] View the full article
  14. A study of Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) in the Washington, D.C., metro area found that even a few nonnative plants can make it hard for native birds to survive. The study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at interactions between plants, arthropods and insectivorous birds in the backyards of citizen scientists. Researchers found that in areas where the native plant biomass was less than 70 percent, the chickadees failed to produce enough young to sustain their populations. The solution, researchers said, is to plant native. “We hear a lot in conservation that things are in trouble, and they are,” lead author Desirée Narango, told Smithsonian.com. “So I think this study is a nice example of something that we can actually do at home to make some positive ecological change.” Read more from the Smithsonian here, or read the study here. View the full article
  15. The journal Nature is voicing support for a massive project to sequence the DNA of every plant and animal on earth. The Earth BioGenome Project launched earlier this month with the goal using the data to slow the decline of biodiversity. “Earth’s sixth great extinction event is firmly under way,” Nature wrote ,“and ending this crisis will take much more than DNA sequences. But the Earth BioGenome Project can play a part, and early signs are that it might work.” Read the editorial in Nature here and our past coverage here. View the full article
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