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Cara J

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Everything posted by Cara J

  1. Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are known to be a territorial species, but researchers recently found that the presence of lead in the environment can make them even more territorial and aggressive. In a study published in Science of the Total Environment, lead author Stephanie McClelland, who is currently a PhD student at Royal Holloway University of London, and her team looked at the aggression of urban mockingbirds in New Orleans, comparing those in neighborhoods with high and low levels of lead in the soil. McClelland conducted the research as part of her master’s work at Tulane University in New Orleans. “We first noticed how aggressive they were in neighborhoods that had high lead as an observation,” McClelland said. “We looked into it a bit more, and there was a strong difference.” The team put up a taxidermized mockingbird in a threatening position — with its wings out — in a male mockingbird’s territory. “We would hear the male singing and would know that’s the center of the territory,” McClelland said. “That would give us an idea of where their turf is.” Researchers placed a cage around a mockingbird mount to protect it from aggression by live mockingbirds. ©Stephanie McClelland Then, they played [...] View the full article
  2. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has updated recovery plans developed under the Endangered Species Act to ensure that the recovery criteria are measurable and quantifiable. The update involves 26 recovery plans covering 42 species of animals and plants, which have recently undergone or are undergoing a five-year status review based on the best available scientific information. Just over 1,600 U.S. species are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, and almost 1,200 of these have active recovery plans. These guidance documents include recovery objectives, prioritize recovery actions and outline an expected timeline for recovery. In 2010, the Service developed guidance that allows it to revise recovery plans based on new scientific information without having to formally revise the plan in its entirety, as would otherwise by required by law. The current plan updates are part of a larger effort by the USFWS to update as many as 182 recovery plans covering 305 species over the next 12 months to ensure they include quantitative and measurable recovery criteria. The changes to the 26 plans in this first wave of updates will include “additional science and information on species’ biology, habitat, distribution, analyses of threats, responses to management actions, and additional requirements for achieving [...] View the full article
  3. Last week, Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Tom Carper, D-Del., and Reps. Alan Lowenthal, D-Cal., and Don Young, R-Alaska, reintroduced the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver (WILD) Act(S. 268/H.R. 872), which reauthorizes several key wildlife conservation programs and provides additional funding for invasive species management and wildlife trafficking. “Around the world, a variety of threats continues to challenge wildlife conservation efforts,” Carper said in a press release.“The WILD Act would help make the United States a global leader on wildlife conservation by encouraging innovation in protecting endangered species, better managing human-wildlife conflicts, and preventing poaching and wildlife trafficking.” The WILD Act would reauthorize the 32-year-old U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which provides private landowners financial and technical assistance to undertake voluntary conservation projects benefitting migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, fish, marine mammals and other species of concern. The bill would provide increased funding for preventing, managing and eradicating invasive species by amending the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act. Under the bill, agencies would be tasked with creating strategic invasive species plans. The WILD Act would also reauthorize the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and provides [...] View the full article
  4. Social marketing campaigns that aim to change human behavior have proven to be instrumental in promoting wildlife conservation, according to new research. Conservationists have adopted the social marketing method, which has been proven useful in campaigns for topics like recycling and quitting smoking. Researchers recently looked at the “Rare Pride” campaign to save the yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot (Amazona barbadensis), or lora, on the Caribbean island of Bonaire. The campaign included posters, songs, fact sheets and church sermons with the purpose of notifying the public about the birds’ threatened status as well as pet trade. Since 1998, the bird population has grown from 294 birds to 1023 in 2018. The team found social marketing campaigns were likely one of the main explanations for the birds’ recovery. Check out the study inConservation Biology. View the full article
  5. After California’s Rim Fire burned through Yosemite National Park and Stanislaus National Forest in 2013, managers wondered what impact it had on wildlife in the region. The 104,000-acre fire was the largest recorded fire ever in California’s Sierra Nevada, one of a series of massive, high-severity wildfires attributed to climate change that have burned across the West, particularly California, which was in the midst of a historic drought. Managers were particularly concerned about the great gray owl (Strix nebulosa), whose population of fewer than 100 pairs in California have made it a state endangered species, many of which occupy the area in and around the burn area. “When the Rim Fire burned, it was like a bullseye on the heart of the geographic range in northern California,” said Rodney Siegel, executive director of The Institute for Bird Populations. “About a quarter of their nesting territories were inside the fire perimeter. There was a lot of concern in the park and elsewhere that wildlife would be threatened by the fire, and the great gray owl in particular seemed like one of the species that would be the most vulnerable.” Yet what researchers found surprised them. Not only did the owls not [...] View the full article
  6. Flamingos stand out in many ways, with their pink color and skinny legs. But many people don’t realize how the species has adapted to survive brutal conditions that other wildlife wouldn’t tolerate. Flamingos can deal with some of the harshest environments on earth, reaping the benefits of fewer predators. Lesser flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) can be found on the soda lakes in Africa, where the pH of the water makes it impossible for most other species to inhabit. Lake Natron in Tanzania is salty and caustic, yet 75 percent of lesser flamingos breed there. The birds have thickened skin and scaly legs that help them avoid burns from the chemicals in the water. Their pink feathers are a testament to their survival skills, coming from the consumption of cyanobacteria. Pigments are processed through their liver and out through their feathers. Check out this American Chemical Society video to learn more about flamingo survival skills. View the full article
  7. It has been over 300 years since Newell’s shearwater (Puffinus newelli) and Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) colonies were detected on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Neither have been found since European contact in 1778. Only been random sightings of dead seabirds have occurred, suggesting the birds had blown in from a storm or been brought down by powerlines, not that they resided on the island. But researchers recently discovered that possible colonies of both endangered species may be on Oahu, offering hope for their declining populations. The stronghold for both species is found on the island of Kauai, and there their numbers are dwindling, said TWS member Lindsay Young, the lead author of the study published in The Condor: Ornithological Applicationsand the executive director of Pacific Rim Conservation. Newell’s shearwater numbers have declined by 94 percent in the past 20 years, she said, and with most of the birds on just one island, they’re particularly vulnerable to events like hurricanes, which could devastate a population. In the study, Young and her colleagues were working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016 to determine suitable habitat for the seabirds on all Hawaiian islands — except Oahu. They placed automated acoustic recording [...] View the full article
  8. The William L. Hutcheson Memorial Forest is a rare piece of land in New Jersey. Set aside by Dutch settlers in 1701, it is an uncut tract of old growth oak and hickory forest, owned and preserved by Rutgers University with a pledge to keep it untouched. It seemed like it should be a pristine piece of nature in central New Jersey, so researchers were puzzled when they discovered that nearly half the ground nesting and migratory birds documented when Rutgers received the land in the 1950s were gone. “When the forest was set aside, one of the big priorities was to not change anything in it,” said Jeffrey Brown, a PhD candidate in Rutgers’s department of ecology and evolution. “The idea was, we have a unique forest. We don’t want to put in a lot of paths and management practices.” Yet over the decades, bird species began to disappear. Species including the ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla), brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) and red-eyed vireo (Vireo olivaceus), which were common in the 1960s, are no longer present, researchers found, while others that were less abundant, such as the common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)and hairy woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus), are now regular sights. The reason, [...] View the full article
  9. A few years ago, University of Guelph researcher Elizabeth Gow’s work wouldn’t have been possible. But improvements in technology allowed biologists to fit tiny tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)with even tinier GPS “backpacks,” allowing them to paint a vivid picture of the birds’ 3,500-kilometer migration across North America. They found that a delay at one point in the migration can have ripple effects throughout the cycle, but at their wintering grounds, the birds have a chance to reset the clock. The findings shed light on how to conserve the birds, whose numbers are dwindling. “If we want to understand the decline of the birds, we need to understand how they behave and where they go at different scales,” said Gow, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Previous studies followed a single population of the bird, which breeds throughout Canada and the northern United States and migrates to southern states, Mexico and the Caribbean. Researchers say this study was the first to track the timing of 12 distinct populations across the continent. Outfitting over 130 birds with light-level geolocators weighing less than a gram, they were able to track how long the birds spent at [...] View the full article
  10. When Canadian ornithologist Percy Algernon Taverner examined the goshawks of Haida Gwaii in 1940, he noticed something unusual about them. The birds on these rugged islands, about 70 kilometers off the coast of British Columbia, were slightly darker than the northern goshawks nesting on the mainland. He designated them a subspecies, Accipiter gentilis laingi, distinct from most of the other goshawks (Accipiter gentilis atricapillus) distributed across the continent. Recently, biologists found, differences run deep between the Haida Gwaii goshawks and others — separated by perhaps 20,000 years of evolution. The last remnant of these distinct goshawks numbers only about 50. Surveys on Haida Gwaii have indicated the population is declining and at risk of extinction. “We don’t want to lose them,” said Darren Irwin, a University of British Columbia professor and senior author of a genomic study of the birds published in Evolutionary Applications. “It appears they’ve become adapted to the environment of Haida Gwaii and they’re a key part of the ecosystem.” Their findings, however, could create some wrinkles in conservation efforts. The subspecies, A. g. laingi, is presently considered to include all the goshawks throughout British Columbia’s Pacific Coast. The Canadian governments lists these birds, numbering about 1,200, as [...] View the full article
  11. Take a cruise from the equator to the poles and you might notice some important changes in marine ecosystem. Species diversity is greater in the tropics, and it dwindles as the climate becomes colder. But biologist John Grady realized something else was happening, too. Marine mammals and birds actually become more common relative to large fish and sharks closer to the poles. Compared to cold-blooded predators, “warm-blooded animals don’t have a temperate peak,” Grady said. “They have a polar peak. They get relatively more diverse as you get closer and closer to the poles.” In the topics, top marine predators tend to be cold-blooded species, like sharks. Move to the poles and they tend to be warm-blooded animals, like whales, dolphins, seals and birds. A postdoctoral researcher at Michigan State University, Grady wondered why. What he found, he believes, could have important conservation impacts for polar predators. “In some sense, it’s a very simple idea,” said Grady, lead author of a paper on this phenomenon published in Science. Put simply: it pays to be warm-blooded in a cold climate. “It gets easier and easier to eat and not get eaten as you move toward the poles,” Grady said. Cold-blooded prey species [...] View the full article
  12. Pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) and great tits (Parus major) interact a lot. Both rely on the sudden appearance of caterpillars to raise their young, and both compete for the same nesting resources. In recent years, researchers in the Netherlands began to notice something new was happening. Flycatchers were arriving to their nesting sites to find great tits were already occupying them, and the great tits were killing them when they showed up. The dynamic was a consequence of climate change, biologists concluded. As European winters warm, pied flycatchers migrating from Africa reach their breeding grounds and find great tits have already claimed their nesting sites. Because the great tits are residents, researchers found, they’re able to adapt to the changing climate in a way the migrating flycatchers can’t. Watch a video on the birds’ deadly nest box competition below. The full study appears in Current Biology. http://wildlife.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/FYI-bird-competition-video.mp4 View the full article
  13. California wildlife officials say a January outbreak of avian cholera has killed thousands of ducks, gulls and other water birds at the Salton Sea. Such outbreaks occur annually due to birds flocking closely together during migration. Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge said they collected and incinerated more than 1,200 carcasses. The birds tested positive for avian cholera, an infectious disease that occurs in California each winter. Officials say the water birds are most susceptible to the disease during stressful periods. Read more from the CDFW here. View the full article
  14. In late December, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a draft environmental impact statement, analyzing the administration’s plan to open parts of the 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy development. Under the plan, oil drilling would occur along the 1.5 million acre coastal plain. The refuge’s coastal plain is home to an impressive array of wildlife, including polar bears (Ursusmaritimus), numerous bird species and caribou (Rangifertarandus). This area, along with Ivvavik National Park across the border in Canada, is the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd, the largest herd in the refuge apolicy, drilling, energy development, ANWR, Alaska nd one of the largest in North America. The decision to open this area for energy development has been contentious for decades. Now, the Canadian government, two territories and several First Nations are weighing in with their concerns about the United States drilling in such an ecologically and culturally important area. “Canada is concerned about the potential transboundary impacts of oil and gas exploration and development planned for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain,” says a letter from Environment Canada to the Alaska office of the Bureau of Land Management, which manages oil drilling in the refuge, according to [...] View the full article
  15. A colony of feral cats (Felis catus) has been removed from Long Island’s Jones Beach State Park and taken to animal shelters in an effort to protect piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) that nest at the beach. “The cats were removed humanely over time, in cooperation with cat caretakers who helped with trapping and locating acceptable shelters,” the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said in a statement. The state agreed to remove the 26 cats to settle a 2016 lawsuit brought by the American Bird Conservancy. The nonprofit argued that the state was violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to adequately protect the shorebirds, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and state listed in New York as endangered. Read more in Newsday here. View the full article
  16. The Florida Keys’ population of ospreys is no longer considered an imperiled species by the state. State wildlife officials announced that a yearlong review found the number of birds is rising. The birds were removed from the list in December. The bird population plummeted after a seagrass die-off in the 1980s, resulting in a 100-square mile dead zone in the Florida Bay. Although a recent seagrass die-off still has conservationists worried, they’re hopeful it will be less impactful than the previous one. “I’m going to remain optimistic, but I’m also going to say let’s wait and see,” Jerry Lorenz, state research director for Audubon Florida, tells the Herald. Read more in the Miami Herald here. View the full article
  17. Seabirds around the world are increasingly finding themselves in competition for food with the fishing industry, researchers found, as fishing vessels increase their catches of potential seabird prey. “We’re fishing their food away,” said University of British Columbia fisheries professor Daniel Pauly, a principal investigator and founder of the university’s Sea Around Us initiative and an author on the recent paper in Current Biology. “We’re fishing the fish that contain the fat that they need to survive and grow.” Researchers found the Sea Around Us and the French National Center for Scientific Research found that between 1970 and 2010, annual seabird food consumption decreased from 70 million tons to 57 million tons. Meanwhile, fishing vessels increased their catches of potential seabird prey from an average of 59 million tons in the 1970s and ’80s to 65 million tons per year in recent years. “Even though there are far fewer seabirds now than there were before,” Pauly said, “the competition between humans and seabirds has not been reduced.” Seabirds have experienced a 70 percent decline in the past seven decades, from the California Coast to the Mediterranean Sea, researchers found, making them the most threatened bird group. The declines included dramatic [...] View the full article
  18. Hummingbird bills are designed to draw nectar from flowers, but researchers have found that some male hummingbirds have developed bills better suited for stabbing their rivals. “It is all about feeding efficiency in flowers versus proficiency in fighting,” said Alejandro Rico-Guevara, a Miller Postdoctoral Fellow at University of California, Berkeley, and the lead scientist on a project that captured hummingbird fencing and feeding strategies in slow motion. Watch the video below. Read more about their research here, or find their study in Integrative Organismal Biology. View the full article
  19. When biologists think about climate change, they tend to look at slow, long-term changes that affect wildlife. What’s happening to alpine species as temperatures rise, or Arctic mammals as polar ice melts, or tropical birds as islands submerge? But these questions are only part of the puzzle. As climate change creates more and more extreme weather events, sudden changes are having a growing impact on wildlife, too. “Extreme events are impacting species across the world,” said Sean Maxwell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Green Fire Research Group at the University of Queensland in Australia and lead author of a study on extreme weather and wildlife in Diversity and Distributions. “These impacts are widespread, and in some cases, quite dramatic.” Maxwell and his team reviewed 519 studies of ecological responses to extreme events between 1941 and 2015. Their research included studies of amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, plants and reptiles and how they responded to a range of events, including cold waves, heat waves, droughts, floods and hurricanes. Researchers looked at impacts around the world, including floods that wiped out desert rodent populations in Arizona and prolonged droughts that affected amphibians in Yellowstone National Park and caused declines in the remaining [...] View the full article
  20. Scientists have long believed that the difference between two species came down to reproductive incompatibility as a result of adapting to different environments. But researchers recently found that may not be the case — it’s actually in the genes. A research team found that “selfish” genes, or meiotic drive elements, determine whether two species converge or diverge. In a new study using two different species of fruit flies, the researchers show that before the rest of the genetic chromosome develops, sex chromosomes from two species already evolve to be incompatible with one another. “Genes from one species simply can’t talk to genes from another species,” said Daven Presgraves, a dean’s professor of biology at the University of Rochester. But some species are “leaky,” researchers say, meaning a selfish gene can cross over to another species and still be compatible. Read more at earth.com or check out the study in eLife. View the full article
  21. Changing wind patterns due to climate change could bring mixed results for migrating birds. Under future climate scenarios, researchers found, North American birds may find it harder to migrate southward in the fall but easier to fly north in the spring. “The study opens up a broad range of questions,” said Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientist Frank La Sorte, lead author of the paper in the journal Global Change Biology. “Exactly how will these changes affect birds?” Cornell Lab of Ornithology researchers used data from 143 weather radar stations to identify not weather but nocturnal migratory bird populations in an effort to estimate the altitude, density and direction of their movements between breeding grounds in North America and wintering grounds in the tropics and subtropics. They paired that information with wind data from 28 different climate change projections in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to estimate how changing wind speed and direction might affect them. They found a mixed blessing for the birds. Westerly winds are projected to increase during spring migration but slightly decrease in the autumn. Southerly winds are expected to increase during both periods. The overall result is greater tailwind support for migrating birds [...] View the full article
  22. Wild house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) are changing the timing of their breeding season due to changes in climate, according to recent research. Researchers already knew that many birds were breeding as temperatures warmed earlier, but didn’t yet know if seed-eating birds were also shifting their breeding times. In the study, the research team gathered museum records of house finch nests in California from 1895 to 2007. They then looked at records of spring temperatures in the regions where the nests were found. For every degree Celsius increase in temperature, the team found, the birds were laying eggs about 4 ½ days earlier. This could be a problem for finches, which need to match their breeding time to seed availability. But it may be beneficial if they take advantage of the longer breeding seasons to make more nests and produce more offspring. Read the study in Ibis, the International Journal of Avian Science. View the full article
  23. Three endangered Mississippi sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis pulla) have been reintroduced to the wild. The cranes were hatched at White Oak Conservation, a conservation center in Yulee, Florida, and released at the Mississippi Sandhill National Wildlife Refuge near Gautier, Mississippi. Only about 130 Mississippi sandhill cranes are believed to exist in the wild. The subspecies only exists in and around the refuge. “This population of cranes is dependent on the reintroduction of healthy offspring produced each year at the breeding centers,” Steve Shurter, chief executive officer of White Oak Conservation, told the Florida Times-Union. Read more at jacksonville.com. View the full article
  24. A set of National Bird Conservation Priorities is being used to guide important bird conservation work. The four-page booklet released by the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative highlights areas of consensus across bird partnerships. The document is intended to help partners, which includes TWS, communicate bird conservation priorities in areas where they share broad agreement. “A short, concise list helps leadership hear the voices that are ‘singing the same song,’” NABCI says on its website. For more information or to download the list, click here. View the full article
  25. In opposition to the federal government’s interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, California is issuing its own legal guidance, affirming that “California law continues to provide robust protections for birds.” In December 2017, the Interior Department changed its interpretation of the act, issuing an opinion that the MBTA does not apply to unintentional “take” of a protected bird. Previously, the MBTA was applied to instances of both intentional and unintentional take of migratory birds. In response, eight states, including California, filed suit, arguing that the new interpretation inappropriately narrows the MBTA and should be vacated. Now, California is taking its opposition one step further. Its new legal guidance specifies that state law includes “a prohibition on incidental take of migratory birds, notwithstanding the recent reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act” by Interior. The guidance notes that California courts have affirmed that state’s legitimate interest in protecting its fish and wildlife and that several different provisions in California law already prohibit take of migratory birds. In addition, a bill now under consideration by California’s state assembly would explicitly protect migratory birds in California in light of Interior’s restricted interpretation of the MBTA. The MBTA was passed in 1918 and has [...] View the full article
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