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Cara J

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  1. Birds are the most diverse group housed by zoos around the world, but zoo-based research tends not to focus on birds. A new article published in the journal Birds, by Dr Paul Rose of the University of Exeter, suggests zoos can improve management of birds by looking at how species live in their natural habitats. Likewise, birds living under the care of humans can also help guide and develop conservation action for those living in the wild. Dr Rose explains: “Research into wild birds is extremely useful for furthering how birds are managed in zoos. For species of conservation concern, zoo professionals can be linked with field biologists to share information on how to best care for these species in captivity and how to develop and formulate conservation actions. We can use proxy species – those common in zoos – to develop practices for conservation that can be used for less familiar species that might be of concern and need help from information gathered through things such as captive breeding. Or we can promote the threats that these not-in-the-zoo species face by using the commoner species as an ambassador. We do this through my work at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, promoting the rarer species of flamingo that are in the wild using the commoner ones we keep in the living collection.” In the review, Dr Rose uses hornbills as an example, a species of bird that is essential to the long viability and sustainability of biodiversity in the rainforest. The helmeted hornbill, a critically endangered species, plays an important role in the dispersal of seeds within pristine, undistributed areas of south-east Asian rainforests. The population decline of the helmeted hornbill has been caused by poaching of the birds for their “ivory,” the large casque on the bird’s head and bill that can be up to 10% of its overall body mass. Whilst the helmeted hornbill is not found in captivity, other species of large hornbill are. By looking at the ecological role of the helmeted hornbill in its natural habitat, zoos have been able to design enclosures that will increase chances of reproduction. For example, by identifying the temperature and humidity range of hornbill nesting sites in the wild which are more likely to hatch eggs, zoos have been able to use this data to enable them to match these environmental conditions as closely as possible. A similar situation happened with the Guam kingfishers, a species that is extinct in the wild and reliant on captive breeding for its survival. Data from the nesting locations of the closely related Pohnpei Kingfisher, found on a neighbouring island, showed that temperatures were hotter than those sometimes provided for captive Guam kingfishers. The findings led to zoos raising the temperature to improve nesting success amongst the species. Zoos have also been able to guide conservation action for hornbills living in the wild by monitoring the behaviour of these birds and discovering that using nest boxes enhances the quality of habitats for hornbills to breed in, which has led to these boxes being built in areas of the helmeted hornbill’s range in Borneo. “The effect of visitors on zoos can also help direct future research questions and increase understanding of birds under human care,” adds Dr Rose. “Developing zoo bird exhibits to theme them around specific conservation messages can be used to promote wider understanding of the threats faced by wild birds specifically and hopefully encourage human behaviour change that benefits ecosystem health.” View the full article
  2. Squeezed by changing ocean conditions that limit their food options and the long-term loss of old forest needed for nesting, marbled murrelets would benefit most from conservation efforts that take both ocean and forest into account, new research by Oregon State University shows. Published in Conservation Letters, the findings are based on two decades of murrelet surveys at nearly 20,000 sites in the Oregon Coast Range and illustrate how the elusive seabird is at risk of its habitat gradually shrinking to the point of local extinctions or worse. Lead author Matt Betts said: “It turns out that the same ocean conditions that influence salmon returns, including the forage fish murrelets need to successfully nest, had a huge influence on the likelihood that murrelets will come inland to breed. Given that these prey items tend to be in lower abundance when ocean temperatures are high, changing climate conditions could reduce prey availability as well as the tendency for murrelets to nest in the future.” Marbled murrelets are closely related to puffins and murres, but unlike those birds, murrelets raise their young as much as 60 miles inland in mature forests. Disturbance in either the ocean or forest environment has the potential to impact murrelet populations. “There aren’t many species like it. There’s no other bird that feeds in the ocean and commutes such long distances inland to nest sites. That’s really unusual,” said study co-author Jim Rivers. The dove-sized bird spends most of its time in coastal waters eating krill, other invertebrates and forage fish such as herring, anchovies, smelt and capelin. Murrelets can only produce one offspring per year, if the nest is successful, and their young require forage fish for proper growth and development. Along the West Coast, marbled murrelets are found regularly from Santa Cruz, California, north to the Aleutian Islands. Their populations have been declining by about 4% a year in Washington, Oregon and California, and the species is listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in those states. “Early on in our work, we noticed strong fluctuations in the numbers of marbled murrelets coming inland to nest, so this study was about trying to get to the bottom of those highs and lows,” Betts said. “We found the first evidence that ocean conditions combined with old-forest nesting habitat influence the murrelets’ long-term occupancy dynamics. In particular, we learned ocean conditions are a key driver of those dynamics.” The finding has potential key implications for forest policy in Oregon, where any state-owned site that goes two consecutive years without murrelet detection is classified as unoccupied and thus available for timber harvest. Rivers says: “Our data show that below-average ocean conditions might last for more than two successive years. That means there could be a scenario where sites on state lands that are suitable for breeding go unused for more than two years which, under current guidelines, would let them be considered available for harvest. Thus, murrelets might be missing from inland sites not because the forest is unsuitable for nesting, but because they have inadequate forage fish during the summer breeding season. That means it is critical that we consider factors that influence both marine food resources and terrestrial nesting habitat when considering how to recover murrelet populations.” View the full article
  3. Changes in climate and habitat on the breeding and non-breeding grounds of migratory birds are both playing an important part in driving their long-term population changes. A new study led by the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, is the first large-scale assessment of how recent changes in both climate and land cover have impacted populations of migrating birds. Global declines in the numbers of individuals of many migratory species are thought to be caused by a combination of climate change and habitat loss on both their breeding and non-breeding grounds, as well as changes to areas they use to refuel whilst on migration. Understanding of which factors are key in causing recent declines, and in which areas changes are having most impact, remains poor. Using data on the long-term population trends of 61 short- and 39 long-distance European breeding migratory birds, the researchers related changes in climate and land cover across their breeding and non-breeding grounds over a 36-year period to their population trends. The study showed that populations of migratory birds were most affected by changes in climate on the European grounds where they stopped to breed but, in the areas that they migrate to after the breeding season, changes in land cover had the greater impact. The combined effects of changes in climate and land cover account for approximately 40% of the variation in the population trends of migratory birds, which means that other factors, such as changes in habitat quality, probably also have a substantial impact on population changes. Professor Stephen Willis, who led the study, said: “For years, people have suspected that climate and land cover changes are major drivers of population trends of migratory birds. Here we show, for the first time that for long distance migrants moving between Europe and Africa, it is a combination of European climate change and African land cover change that are key to the population declines of many such species over recent decades. “In the UK, we have seen major declines in many migratory bird species that come here to breed from their African wintering grounds. For example, the Turtle Dove has declined by 95% between 1992-2017, and the Nightingale has declined by 56% between 1995 – 2018.” Lead author, Dr Christine Howard added: “The relatively minor role of recent climate changes on African non-breeding grounds for long distance migrants was surprising but probably reflects the less extreme climatic changes there compared to Europe. The fact that a lot of variation in population trends remain unexplained in our study suggests that other factors, such as agricultural intensification, are probably also impacting populations, along with changes at migratory stopping points, including hunting.” The researchers say that to stop the declines of European migrant birds, an integrated approach must consider all processes affecting them across the different grounds they inhabit throughout the year. View the full article
  4. The endangered Hawaiian duck, or koloa, the only endemic duck remaining on the main Hawaiian Islands, is threatened with genetic extinction due to interbreeding with feral mallards. This has led to the creation of hybrid forms of the koloa. But new research has found that the genetic diversity of the koloa is high, and conservation efforts on the island of Kauai have been successful. The study, a culmination of two decades of research and published in Molecular Ecology, offers hope for existing conservation efforts with the koloa and other endangered birds around the world. Caitlin Wells, a research scientist at Colorado State University and lead author, said: “Persistence of an endangered native duck, feral mallards, and multiple hybrid swarms across the main Hawaiian Islands. The fact that the koloa on Kauai are pure and have a lot of genetic variation are two really positive things that came out of this study.” Andy Engilis, study co-author from UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, said the study is pivotal in the struggle to save koloa from extinction: “This study lays the foundation for a new chapter in the recovery of the koloa, a new trajectory towards recovery and delisting as an endangered species.” The largest population of koloa is on Kauai, where the team found very few hybrid birds. On the other islands, however, all of the birds were hybrids or feral mallards. Historically, koloa existed throughout the main Hawaiian islands, but they disappeared from all islands except Kauai and Niihau by the late 1960s due to habitat loss, introduced predators and unregulated hunting. Soon after, wildlife managers began captive breeding and release programs on Oahu, Hawaii and Maui to re-establish the koloa. Unfortunately, mallards were never removed on these islands, resulting in rapid hybridisation. This research study was conducted, in part, to determine the genetic makeup of koloa on Kauai. The research team studied 425 koloa, mallards and hybrids from populations across the Hawaiian Islands, gathering more than 3,300 genetic data points from the birds. Members of the team collected blood samples from hundreds of the birds before releasing them back into the wild. The researchers also gathered genetic data from the carcasses of koloa retrieved following botulism outbreaks, particularly in the Kauai population. Previously, wildlife managers had thought that if they left the koloa hybrids alone, the birds would eventually return to pure koloa on their own. “That’s not what we found,” explained Wells. “If you don’t have pure koloa parents that outnumber the feral mallards, you’re not going to get any decreases in those hybrid proportions.” The recovery of the endangered koloa is important because the bird is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. Engilis adds: “Its recovery could be viewed as a beacon of hope for the many dozens of critically endangered birds found in the islands.” Researchers also point out that its recovery is important because of its unique evolutionary history. “Should the environment change, due to things like climate change, there’s a lot of potential for the koloa to evolve on its own, given the genetic diversity we’ve seen…we have enough individuals with enough genetic variation in the koloa, and we’ve also genetically identified the hybridising species. It seems very clear that we can separate those going forward.” View the full article
  5. Scientists who are trying to save species at the brink of extinction are finding help in an unexpected place, highlighted by a new study published in the journal Conservation Genetics. Heather Farrington, curator of zoology for the Cincinnati Museum Centre, is using DNA from specimens collected more than 100 years ago to help understand the evolution and stresses faced by today’s animals. She runs the museum’s new state-of-the-art genetics laboratory, which helps researchers study populations of animals over time. Researchers increasingly are embracing the power of ancient DNA from old museum specimens to answer questions about climate change, habitat loss and other stresses on surviving populations. Ancient DNA has been used to explain the diversity of livestock in Africa and the first domestication of wild horses in Asia. Farrington earned her doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Cincinnati, where she charted the family trees of Galapagos finches and used the latest DNA tools to gain fresh insights about the birds from century-old museum specimens. The museum’s genetics lab works with researchers and government agencies on a variety of projects that require DNA analysis, from conserving wildlife to improving our understanding of the natural world. Recently, the lab helped with a conservation project on the Allegheny woodrat, a small rock-loving rodent that is in decline across much of its historic range from Indiana to New Jersey. In Ohio it’s found in only one place, the Richard and Lucille Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve, a mix of mature forest and limestone cliffs along the Ohio River. The museum’s lab analysis found that Ohio’s woodrats are maintaining their genetic diversity so far despite their geographic isolation. The lab also has studied the genetics of Ohio’s crayfish and a beautiful yellow-and-black songbird called a hooded warbler. The museum’s DNA lab has glass walls on two sides so the public can watch scientists at work. Next door, visitors also can watch museum staff and volunteers prepare fossils from a public gallery at the paleontology lab. The lab keeps DNA samples in refrigerators, including one set to a chilly minus-112 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists can identify the concentration of DNA, amplify the sample and sequence it to understand the lineage and relationships of species. Farrington realised what a valuable resource museum collections are for genetic research. For her dissertation, she examined museum specimens gathered more than 100 years ago to understand how Galapagos finch populations have changed over time. And she developed many of the important lab techniques she uses at the museum while conducting research at the University. Biology professor Kenneth Petren, who recruited her to the university said: “While at the University of Cincinnati, Heather worked very hard to pioneer the use of museum specimens for population genetics analysis. Our lab was a leader in this field because of Heather’s efforts. She used the techniques she developed to address issues of conservation in several different species of Galapagos finches. She went on to become a leader in the field of environmental DNA in her role working for the U.S. Department of Defense, which was interested in monitoring rare species or to provide early warnings of problematic invasive species like the Asian carp.” Farrington said her experience while researching museum specimens for her dissertation convinced her of how valuable these resources can be for future study. “That is really what got me into museum work and the amazing things you can learn from museum specimens,” Farrington said. View the full article
  6. The white-tailed sea eagle is known for reacting sensitively to disturbances. However, research into which factors have which effects on the animals and how these impacts influence breeding success has so far only just begun. A research team led by Dr. Oliver Krone from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has now measured concentrations of the hormone corticosterone and its metabolic products in white-tailed sea eagles in northern Germany and correlated these values with potential causes of “stress.” They found that the levels of corticosterone in the birds’ urine are higher the closer a breeding pair’s nest is to paths or roads. From this, the scientists derive implications for the management and protection of white-tailed sea eagles, in particular for protection zones around the nests. The study was published in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology. Important areas of distribution of the sea eagle in Germany, such as the Mecklenburg Lake District or the Baltic Sea coast, are also attractive tourist regions. As a result, visitor numbers in core breeding areas are high and continue to rise. Since typical tourist activities such as hiking, cycling, and water sports focus on experiencing nature, researchers see a potential conflict between visitors and the sensitive animals. In order to measure the level of the hormone corticosterone in the eagles’ urine, they use excrement samples from 6 to 8 week old sea eagles in Usedom Island National Park, which they collected from leaves in the direct vicinity of the nests. Long-term data of the Leibniz-IZW sea eagle project were also used to determine the population density of the white-tailed sea eagles in the respective area, the breeding success of the sites and the distance of the nests to the nearest road or path. Dr. Oliver Krone, lead author the study, explains: “By means of statistical tests, we were able to check the relationship between these long-term data and hormone levels. We were able to detect lower levels of corticosterone in samples collected at sites greater in distance from roads or paths.” The relationship is statistically highly significant, demonstrating the negative effect of the “stress factor” road or path. However, Krone could not prove any negative influence of this factor on breeding success. “Whether breeding is successful at a given location does not seem to depend on the corticosterone level or the proximity to roads and paths,” he said. Rather, there is a correlation between sea eagle density and breeding success: In already densely populated regions (more than two pairs per 121 square kilometres), the chances of having offspring are significantly lower than in regions thinly populated by sea eagles. To prevent negative effects on the breeding performance, the scientists regard adjustments of the protection zone regulations as necessary. These regulations in the German federal states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, for example, restrict forest and agricultural use within a radius of 300 metres of an eagle’s nest. Krone says: “Hiking trails or riding paths have not been affected by this regulation so far.” Yet, intensive tourist use, as is the case in Usedom for example, is proving to be just as “stressful” for sea eagles. “We suggest to exclude tourist use and development within a radius of 100 metres around the nests and to prevent any leisure activities off the beaten track, paths or roads in breeding regions. Car traffic on the road is not disturbing sea eagles at all, the animals can get used to it well. However, pedestrians and cyclists who pass too close to the nest pose a potential danger to the eagles.” View the full article
  7. The Threatened Species Recovery Hub study, conducted by University of Queensland scientists and published in the journal Conservation Biology, found that half of all native bird species have each lost almost two-thirds of their natural habitat across Victoria, parts of South Australia and New South Wales. Lead researcher, Dr Jeremy Simmonds, said the team looked at both threatened and non-threatened birds, including common species: “While more attention is usually paid to threatened species, common species, like many of our familiar fairy-wrens, pigeons and honeyeaters, are crucially important. Common species play a vital role in controlling insect pests and pollination and their decline through loss of habitat has implications for the health of ecosystems. Along with feral and invasive species, habitat destruction is among the greatest threats facing biodiversity in Australia, so it is important to understand how big the problem of habitat removal is: our research developed a method to do this, called the Loss Index.” The team looked at how the amount of habitat available for each of Australia’s 447 different land bird species had changed since 1750. In places like Queensland’s south-east and the Wet Tropics, each hectare of forest cleared can affect up to 180 different native bird species. Dr Simmonds continued: “Habitat loss has been particularly devastating for birds from south-east Australia; more than half of the 262 native birds in this region only have a small fraction of their natural habitat remaining in this part of the country. Northern Australia and Australia’s arid zone have had the least habitat loss, as there has been much less vegetation clearing across that region. We also looked at different bird groups and found that Australia’s parrot species are more impacted by habitat loss, compared with birds of prey, like eagles and owls.” One such parrot is the orange-bellied parrot, a migratory species, listed as critically endangered. The 2016 to 2017 breeding season saw just 16 confirmed individuals in the wild. The Norfolk parakeet is listed as endangered and is found only in a small region of Norfolk Island. Numbers had dwindled to less than 50 birds by 1970, primarily due to the loss of large old trees with suitable hollows for them to breed in. Dr Simmonds said the index provided a tool for conservation managers and planners to better understand how habitat loss affects all birds, and not just the endangered ones. He says: “It helps to show that every hectare of native vegetation that is removed chips away at remaining habitat for dozens and sometimes hundreds of species, including common species which typically do not receive conservation attention. The quality of the remaining habitat is often reduced, due to weeds, grazing and changed fire patterns, such as more and hotter fires, and this can further reduce the number and type of birds that an area can support.” The Loss Index can also be applied to other species like mammals or plants to summarise and communicate how human actions affect whole assemblages, not just threatened species. View the full article
  8. Scientists are puzzling out how to address the declining numbers of northern spotted owls (NSO) in their Pacific Northwest forest habitat. A new study in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications explores the reasons why spotted owls are losing a foothold in their habitat, forecasts future habitat conditions and species interactions, and suggests best management practices. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in the late 20th century because years of over-logging left the owls’ forest home degraded. The U.S Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management began actively managing federal lands using the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan that focuses on preserving and increasing the acreage of the spotted owls’ preferred mature forests habitat. The NSO had been at the centre of controversy in the 1990s, pitting loggers and sawmill owners against environmentalists. The logging industry believed that protection of the owl would lead to a loss of up to 30,000 of 168,000 jobs because of the owl’s protected status, and that it was a case of environmental protection going too far. However, logging jobs had been long in decline due to dwindling old-growth forest harvests and automation of the lumber industry. And environmentalists believed that NSOs are “canaries in the coal mine” and that their protection has protected the entire threatened ecosystem. The debate led to the production of bumper stickers that read “kill a spotted owl…save a logger” and plastic owl effigies were hung in sawmills in Oregon. The 1994 plan resulted in much less logging, and because of the decline due to automation, thousands of logging jobs were lost. Yet many were created for biologists conducting surveys for spotted owls and other species in the area. As for the owls, some restoration of the forest is occurring, but there are other pressures affecting the forests such as the 2002 Biscuit Fire that burned nearly 500,000 acres in southern Oregon and northern California. From the beginning of the implementation of the 1994 plan, managers expected owl populations to continue declining because regrowth and recovery of old forest is a slow process that occurs over decades. And yet, even with those projections, mangers and ecologists are surprised NSO populations are decreasing at a greater rate than anticipated. The reason? The northern spotted owls are not alone in their forests. Barred owls began to invade the northern portion of spotted owl’s range about 50 years ago. They are native to eastern North America but are considered to be invasive on the west coast of Canada and the United States, where they have been spreading to since the 1960s. Although they existed in low numbers in 1994 when the Northwest Forest Plan went into effect, unfortunately barred owls quickly increase in numbers. “We have known for some time that NSO are reliant on older forest as habitat, that recovering NSO would require recovering this habitat, and that this process of recovery would take many decades,” says lead author Charles Yackulic of the U.S. Geological Survey. “Twenty-five years ago, however, we did not anticipate the increases in barred owl abundances would lead to a second major threat to NSO recovery.” The invading barred owl competes with the spotted owl for prime nesting spots and hunting areas. The barred owl is winning the fight and may push the spotted owl to localised extinction in the region in the next few decades without managers intervening. The barred owl is changing the entire ecosystem, so other animals in the forest are losing along with the spotted owl. Yackulic continues: “NSO are only found in the Pacific Northwest and play a unique role in the food webs of intact forest in this region. While barred owls serve some similar ecological functions, they eat a broader range of prey and there is evidence their invasion is leading to trophic cascades – unexpected declines in other members of the ecological communities because of differences in how NSO versus barred owls interact with food webs.” In the paper, the researchers analyse the relative importance of habitat conditions and barred owl competition in past and future NSO territorial population dynamics in eleven study areas. They also forecast the future interactions between the two owl species under current management conditions and under scenarios with various levels of barred owl removal or changes in habitat. They find that recent wide-range declines in NSO occupancy are driven primarily by competition with increasing barred owl populations and removal of barred owls is an effective management option to prevent declines in the near future. Although there are worries that this would shift the blame completely to barred owls and less attention will be paid to habitat protection…and potentially the resumption of logging. Plus, barred owl removal is not enough on its own. While barred owl removal could stabilise NSO populations in the short-term, forest regeneration can take 50 or more years. Maintaining or improving habitat conditions is an important factor in promoting spotted owl survival over longer periods and allows managers to be less reliant on barred owl removals in the future. In short, spotted owl populations survival may depend on managers’ using a two-fold approach of removing barred owls in the short term and preserving the forests in the long term. The researchers project this combination results in a 95% probability that spotted owls will persist in these areas for 50 or more years, a best-case scenario. However, without either practice, should habitat conditions worsen and barred owls are not removed at all, spotted owls will be extinct from many of the study areas within decades. In the future, the researchers hope to understand how to effectively use barred owl removal methods, and where to prioritise them. They also want to identify if any habitat conditions can support both owl species. Who knows – there may be situations under which NSO can coexist with barred owls, and the two can manage to get along. View the full article
  9. A team led by a conservation biologist from the University of Kent has successfully relocated threatened Seychelles paradise flycatchers to a different island to help prevent their extinction. Four females and two males were caught on Denis Island and taken to Curieuse Island, where they joined 11 males and nine females who were moved there from La Digue Island at the end of last year. Four weeks after that release, the first birds had nested, with the first chick recently fledged. The project was led by Jim Groombridge, Professor of Biodiversity Conservation and Head of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC). Dr Rachel Bristol, who completed her PhD at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) in SAC managed the project in partnership with the Seychelles National Parks Authority. The project was financed by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative. The move was a complex process. First of all, they had to catch the birds using mist nets and delicately mark their tails so that each bird was identifiable (at least until their next moult). Blood samples were taken before they were transported in well-ventilated recycled cardboard boxes, complete with perch, on a plane to Praslin and then by boat to Curieuse. On arrival they were given rehydration and energy fluid before being released by hand. The Seychelles paradise flycatcher is currently ‘Critically Endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of endangered species and conservationists hope that successfully establishing this additional population on Curieuse Island could mean they are down-listed to a less endangered category. The bird has very specific habitat requirements and is suffering from habitat loss and fragmentation caused by development and the increase in tourism. The first ever conservation introduction of the Seychelles paradise flycatcher, from La Digue to Denis Island, was undertaken by the team in 2008. It was so successful that the population there has grown considerably from the 23 translocated individuals to the current estimate of over 85 birds. It is from this population that the conservation team were then able to source some of the birds for this second transfer to Curieuse Island, the rest coming from the relict population on La Digue Island. Professor Groombridge said: “This is such a positive start for this new population. The translocation is a crucial milestone in the successful recovery of this critically endangered bird, and represents a highly successful long-term international collaboration between the Government of Seychelles, local conservation partners and DICE at the University of Kent, and will hopefully lead to a more secure future for this beautiful bird. Successes like this are part of what I teach to our Wildlife Conservation BSc students as these cases require a real understanding of how to bring species back from the brink of extinction.” View the full article
  10. Climate change has pushed migratory birds to take their spring trips a week earlier than they did six decades ago. According to a large-scale analysis of data gathered by 21 bird observatories from northern Europe and Canada on nearly 200 species, birds have advanced the timing of their migration by an average of just over a week since the late 1950s and early 1960s. Short-distance migratory birds have sped up the start of their migrations by 1.5 to two days per decade on average. Long-distance migrants start 0.6 to 1.2 days earlier. “There are clearly some species which have advanced very fast and other species which have changed hardly at all,” says Aleksi Lehikoinen, an academic research fellow at the University of Helsinki’s Finnish Museum of Natural History and the lead author of a study published in Ecological Indicators. While the birds have timed their migrations a week earlier on average to cope with warmer weather due to climate change, Lehikoinen said, this varies within migration season of species. Early migrants, for example, are more likely to have sped up their spring migrations compared to later migrants of the same species, which haven’t changed their habits as much on average. While [...] View the full article
  11. Parents may want to think twice before allowing their children to let balloons fly off into the atmosphere. When seemingly harmless latex balloons end up in the ocean, according to a new study, they become unusually deadly for seabirds. “They are attractive and they are disproportionately deadly if those balloons are eaten,” said Lauren Roman, the lead author of the study published recently in Nature Scientific Reports. Roman is a postdoctoral researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, an Australian government agency. It’s nothing new that ingesting too much plastic and other human marine debris can kill seabirds. By blocking up their gastrointestinal systems, it can cause infections and even starvation. But Roman and her co-authors wanted to see whether they could narrow down the causes of death. They examined the insides of more than 1,700 dead birds from 51 different species that they and other organizations collected. They divided the carcasses into those that clearly died due to ingesting debris, those that died from non-debris causes such as fisheries bycatch and those whose death was undetermined. A grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma) is found dead with balloon fragments inside its body. ©Lauren Roman They found that while birds were [...] View the full article
  12. Implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, passed in December, is now underway. The $867 billion package funds many programs, from producer subsidies to food stamps, including $5 billion for conservation incentives on private lands. Key Farm Bill conservation programs include the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The new bill increased the enrollment cap for CRP, and EQIP will now dedicate 10 percent of funds distributed though the program to wildlife conservation, providing about $200 million a year. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue testified in front of both the House and Senate agriculture committees. During the Senate hearing, staffing vacancies currently faced by the USDA that may slow Farm Bill implementation were brought up by lawmakers. Perdue agreed with lawmaker concerns, noting that federal government hiring is not done quickly. Despite these challenges, Perdue said, the USDA is moving forward with implementing the conservation programs. “The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) utilized mandatory program funding to keep staff working throughout the recent shutdown,” he said in written testimony, “providing significant time to begin building the framework for the new and revised conservation programs they are responsible for implementing.” During the House hearing, Perdue also discussed the challenges surrounding [...] View the full article
  13. The House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bipartisan public lands package last week, a week after the Senate did the same. It now goes to the president’s desk to be signed. The Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47) contains more than 100 different bills affecting public lands and conservation, including permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. During the last Congress, LWCF expired Sept. 30, after several attempts to pass reauthorization during the last Congress failed. The LWCF allows proceeds from oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters to be used to acquire parks, forests, recreation areas, wildlife habitat and cultural sites around the country for conservation and public access. The legislation also reauthorizes the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which provides grants for to conserve populations and habitats of neotropical migratory birds. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which works with private landowners who want to voluntarily undertake habitat restoration projects on their lands, was also reauthorized through the public lands package. Laura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with [...] View the full article
  14. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced its decisions to list the northern subspecies of scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Scarlet macaws are large neotropical parrots native to Mexico, Central America and South America, with the greatest concentration of their population in the Amazon. Destruction of the birds’ habitat and collection for the pet trade have reduced the scarlet macaw’s range in Mexico and Central America. It is no longer found in most of its former range in those areas. While the scarlet macaw is currently classified as “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, several countries throughout Central and South American have listed the species under their endangered species protections. The northern subspecies is considered in danger of extinction in Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama; threatened in Guatemala; a species of concern in Honduras; and protected from take in Nicaragua. In South America, the southern subspecies (A. m. macao) is designated vulnerable in Peru and near threatened in both Ecuador and Venezuela. Its populations will also receive ESA protections under the USFWS decision. The northern distinct population segment will be listed as threatened. The southern distinct population segment will [...] View the full article
  15. The purple martin (Progne subis) is in the midst of a long-term decline, and researchers worry that without humans continuing to put out birdhouses for them, their numbers will fall faster. In a study published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, researchers found that eastern purple martins (P.s. subis) have very high nest survival in artificial housing, making it an important component in the bird’s conservation. “If people are interested in helping out a species, this is a really easy solution,” said Texas Tech assistant professor Blake Grisham and an author on the study. In the centuries since European settlement in North America, eastern purple martins have become almost completely dependent on artificial housing, from gourds suspended from tree branches to deluxe high-rises with pitched roofs and balcony perches. The shift began even before colonization, Grisham said, with martins nesting in gourds placed by Native Americans. Since then, with the exception of a Florida population that still nests in the wild, the birds rely exclusively on birdhouses, Grisham said, and that could present a problem. “Most of the individuals who have purple martin cavities are greater than 56 years old,” he said. “What happens if they stop providing those cavities?” Researchers found [...] View the full article
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