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As lake level drops and salinity climbs, waterbirds vanish

Cara J

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Like many saline lakes in the western United States, water levels in Oregon’s Lake Abert are decreasing due to water diversions for agricultural operations, drought and climate change. Researchers recently found the falling water level and rising salinity is resulting in fewer waterbirds at the lake. In the study published in Biological Conservation, lead author Nathan Senner and his colleagues — including Senner’s father, who served as senior author— used a variety of data to see whether the birds had in fact decreased on the lake and why. Some of the birds they looked at included Wilson’s pharalopes (Phalaropus tricolor), eared grebes (Podiceps nigricollis), California gulls (Larus californicus) and American avocets (Recurvirostra americana). “This project was really born out of the observations a number of citizen scientists had been making at Lake Abert over the past few years,” said Senner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Montana who will be starting as an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina next year. Volunteers for the East Cascades Audubon Society in Bend, Oregon began conducting bird surveys at the lake in 2011 and shared their data and concerns with the National Audubon Society. The team dug up 1990s Bureau [...]

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