Freshwater and coastal wetlands are highly important ecosystems for a variety of reasons. Wetlands cleanse and filter the water removing pollutants; they control and mitigate floods, support the food chain and the fishing industry and provide vital habitats for wildlife during breeding season and in migration. Residential and commercial development globally has resulted in the devastating loss of these habitats and/or pollution that threatens the health of the ecosystem and ultimately the survival of obligate marsh species.
We conduct research in North, Central, South America and the Caribbean Islands, Russia, and the Mediterranean Sea. We work with local, state, and federal agencies, and other conservation organizations to examine the impact anthropogenic stressors have on wetland bird populations.
Bird blood, feathers, and eggs provide direct insights into the short- and long-term exposure to contaminants through diet. Sampling broadly throughout the landscape helps biologists identify “hotspots” of contaminant exposure, and sampling annually helps us determine if contaminant levels are changing over time. Such information has proven pivotal in guiding policy decisions to regulate pollutants.
BRI, together with Rachel Carson and Parker River National Wildlife Refuges, leads long-term studies of mercury exposure on saltmarsh sparrows, which is a species of global concern.
BRI is contracted by the federal agencies to assess damage to natural resources due to contaminants exposure from industrial point source pollution.
Our current shorebird project is focusing on willets, among other species. With the use of geolocators (tracking devices) we determine migration patterns and understand potential stressors encountered along willets’ migratory routes and on wintering grounds. The program is expanding efforts into mangroves and other tropical wetlands through collaborations in Peru, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
Conservation biologists are continually challenged to evaluate the status of bird populations. We try to detect declines as they occur. We prioritize collecting information needed to detect and measure changes in the stability of bird populations. In order to achieve this, we survey bird populations to document the number of individuals, breeding pairs, nonbreeding pairs, nests, or young produced in an area. Birds can be detected by direct observation (counting), sound (responses to playback calls), or by capturing and banding them.
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.
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.
BRI has been conducting avian mercury exposure studies in Nicaragua since 2012 in collaboration with the USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico, and Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua.
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