Freshwater and coastal wetlands are highly productive ecosystems. These environments also promote the conversion of inorganic mercury to the highly toxic organic methylmercury. Birds that occupy wetland habitats may be particularly vulnerable to methylmercury exposure - high concentrations can impair behavior, physiology, survival, and reproductive success.
In addition to mercury exposure, wetland bird populations are threatened by the loss of habitat associated with human development, sea level rise due to climate change, invasive species, and pollution.
BRI’s wetland scientists conduct research with local, state, and federal agencies as well as other conservation organizations to examine the impact of these and other stressors on wetland bird populations. BRI has also begun new studies on shorebirds, such as the willet. Researchers affix geolocators (tracking devices) to willets to help determine migration patterns and understand potential stressors encountered along their migratory routes and on wintering grounds.
The program is also expanding efforts into mangroves and other tropical wetlands through collaborations with scientists in Peru, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Montserat.
“Birds are excellent indicators of the health of freshwater, tidal and
— Oksana Lane, Program Director
Field Crew Leader/Research Assistant: Kevin Regan
Rusty Blackbird Project Coordinator: Sam Edmonds
Shorebird Coordinator: Marie Perkins
Collaborating BRI Staff: David Buck, Tim Divoll
Other Contributing BRI Staff: Dave Evers, Bruce Rinker
- Continue BRI’s studies in coastal and fresh water wetland contaminants and conservation research through collaborations with other researchers, including government agencies, non-government research institutions, local conservation organizations in North, Central, South America and the Caribbean
- Contribute to the conservation of wetland birds through the identification of key research needs and implementation of applied, issue-driven research projects
- Continue leading NRDAR and similar projects focusing on contaminants in aquatic habitats
- Describe the demographics and ecology of wetland birds in tidal marshes
- Identify major threats to wetland/mangrove bird populations and their interactions with at-risk populations
- Identify emerging stressors and threats (for ex. contaminants and climate change) to bird communities in coastal wetlands in Central, South American and the Caribbean countries;
- Establish strong collaborations through training with international researchers;
- Lead contaminant and conservation projects focusing on the species of special concern, the saltmarsh sparrow (representing the tidal marsh ecosystem) and the rusty blackbird (representing the boreal wetland ecosystem).
Current BRI Projects
- Determining Migratory Paths and Mercury Exposure of Eastern Willets Breeding in the Gulf of Maine
- Mercury exposure monitoring, food web and demographic studies of saltmarsh sparrows on Long Island, NY, Maine and Massachusetts
- Mercury monitoring of breeding songbirds and rails on lower Penobscot River salt marshes
- Mercury exposure of birds breeding in New Jersey's tidal wetlands
- Migratory connectivity studies of eastern willets breeding in the Gulf of Maine using geolocators to determine their migratory routes, stopover locations, and wintering grounds.
- Rusty Blackbird Mercury exposure studies on Northeast breeding grounds
The wetlands program is partnering with the biologists from Reserva Playa Tortuga (RPT) to develop collaborative projects and provide training to local biologists with the goal to promote conservation of resident and migrant bird and bat populations. RPT is located in an ideal setting to study coastal and wetland/mangrove biology and is set up to host and house groups of volunteers and biologists.
RPT is located just 3.5 hours from San Jose, in Ojochal de Osa on the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The Reserva is situated at the mouth of the Terraba River, which is a part of the Terraba Sierpe national wetlands, a RAMSAR site just outside of Marino Ballena National Park. The reserve, located in tropical rainforest, offers a unique environment to researchers and volunteers. Habitats found within RPT include pasture, swamp, estuary, coral reefs, sand beach, rocky beach, riparian forest, mangrove forest, regenerating forest, and secondary forest.
North, Central, South America and the Caribbean Islands
Recent Reports, Papers and Presentations
- Oksana P. Lane, K. M. O'Brien, D. E. Evers, A. Major, T. P. Hodgman, R. Taylor and D. Perry. Geographic Mercury Exposure Profile in Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows (Ammodramus caudacutus). In Prep.
- Lane, O.P., A. Major, K. O’Brien, N. Pau and D. C. Evers. 2008. Methylmercury availability in New England estuaries as indicated by Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, 2004-2007. Report BRI 2008-11. BioDiversity Research Institute, Gorham, Maine. pdf
- Lane, O.P. and D.C. Evers. 2007.Methylmercury availability in New England estuaries as indicated by saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, 2004-2006. Report BRI 2007-14 submitted to USFWS. BioDiversity Research Institute, Gorham, Maine. pdf
- Lane, O.P., D.C. Evers, and K. A. Warner. 2007. An exploratory investigation of environmental mercury levels at an operating chlor-alkali plant on the Hiwassee River, Tennessee. BRI Report 2007-05 submitted to Oceana. BioDiversity Research Institute, Gorham, Maine. pdf
- Lane, O.P, D.C. Evers, D. Albano, T. Haines, and R. Taylor. 2004. Belted kingfishers (Ceryle alcyon) as indicators of methyl mercury availability in aquatic systems (1997-2003). Submitted to: Surface Water Ambient Toxic Monitoring Program. Report BRI 2004-13. BioDiversity Research Institute, Gorham, Maine. pdf
- Lane, O.P. and D.C. Evers. 2003. North American common loon biomonitoring program, Quebec, Canada, 1997-2001 Comprehensive report. BRI 2003-01. BioDiversity Research Institute, Falmouth, Maine. pdf