Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), a nonprofit ecological research group based in Portland, Maine, conducts innovative wildlife science worldwide.
BRI’s Center for Mercury Studies plays a lead scientific role in understanding the exposure and effects of mercury on wildlife in New England, North America, and around the world. The Center for Waterbird Studies is dedicated to assessing current and emerging threats to waterbirds. The programs in our Center for Ecology and Conservation Research aim to understand the workings of wildlife and their habitats while exploring how ecological stressors affect different species and ecosystems.
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Deborah McKew, Communications Director
Portland, ME—Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) will participate in several capacities at the 2016 North American Ornithological Conference (NAOC), to be held at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., August 16-20. BRI staff biologists will present current avian research in presentations and poster sessions. BRI’s executive director, David Evers, Ph.D., will participate in a symposium on birds as indicators of ecosystem health and environmental change.
Below is a list of BRI’s representation at this year’s NAOC:
Dave Evers, Ph.D. – BRI’s Executive Director and Chief Scientist
Since 1984, David Evers has specialized in the research and conservation of birds with a particular emphasis on environmental mercury contamination. His current work includes overseeing the first ever loon restoration project. He also serves as a principal science advisor for the Minamata Convention on Mercury and works on projects with governments in more than 40 countries for the United Nations.
Avian Indicators: What Can Birds Tell Us About Ecosystem Health and Environmental Change?
Thursday, August 18, Morning Symposia
Changes in ecological systems, whether due to anthropogenic or natural perturbations, can have profound and multifaceted impacts on avian health. Identifying these impacts—and how they interact at multiple temporal and spatial scales—is critical for linking ornithological science with conservation of biodiversity. This symposium will bring together speakers who (1) will describe studies where free-ranging birds have been used as sentinels of ecosystem health to effectively inform conservation efforts and (2) will discuss the methodologies, including experimental design, key assumptions, and limitations, in using avifauna to detect ecosystem-level biological impacts of a wide variety of stressors, including climate change, contaminants, disease, and habitat loss.
GENERAL SESSION PRESENTATIONS
Kate Williams, M.S. – BRI’s Wildlife and Renewable Energy Program Director
Kate Williams is a wildlife biologist who has worked with numerous taxa in North and Central America. Most recently, she directed research for the Mid-Atlantic Baseline Studies Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Laying the Groundwork for Responsible Development of Offshore Wind Energy in the United States: Baseline Studies of Avian Distributions and Movements
Wednesday, August 17, 2:15-2:30 pm
Offshore wind energy development is a nascent industry in the western hemisphere and a major impetus of marine spatial planning efforts in the USA. American regulators, developers, and other stakeholders have generally looked to the European experience with offshore wind for guidance. Careful project siting may help to avoid or minimize wildlife impacts, so challenges in the USA include: (1) identifying areas of persistently high densities of seabirds; and (2) predicting environmental variables and biological conditions that support these aggregations. A large, collaborative baseline study recently completed in the mid-Atlantic United States included examinations of avian individual movements, migration patterns, and resident distribution and abundance patterns in relation to areas designated for offshore wind energy development.
Species richness and densities of birds observed during diurnal surveys were generally higher in nearshore locations, particularly offshore of large bays. However, species responses to environmental variables varied widely, and there were strong seasonal and interannual variations in community composition and distributions. In autumn, nocturnal migration activity offshore was comparable to terrestrial activity levels, indicating a substantial offshore migration pathway in some locations. While exposure to offshore development does not necessarily indicate that animals will suffer deleterious effects, or that these will translate to population impacts, baseline studies are an important first step towards understanding the implications of offshore wind energy development for avian populations. We place the mid-Atlantic study results in a broader context to identify key management implications for siting offshore wind energy projects and developing best practices to minimize avian impacts.
Evan Adams, Ph.D. – Ecological Modeler
Evan Adams is a quantitative ecologist whose work focuses on how animal populations respond to environmental change throughout complex life cycles.
Distribution and Abundance of Breeding Marsh Birds of the Gulf of Mexico
Wednesday, August 17, 4:30-4:45 pm
Despite the recent development of a North American standardized protocol for monitoring breeding marsh birds and a national repository for the survey data, tidal marsh bird distribution and abundance along the Gulf of Mexico are still poorly understood. Many projects have employed marsh bird surveys over the last 15 years for a variety of purposes ranging from conservation land inventory to ecological research, but the use of a standardized protocol make it possible to aggregate data to quantify marsh bird densities and distributions across a larger study area. The purpose of this project was to compile marsh bird survey data to determine the: (1) temporal and spatial extent of survey effort; (2) distribution and abundance of marsh birds in the region; and (3) species-habitat relationships and interspecific interactions. We applied a Bayesian modeling framework with an N-mixture model to predict abundance across multiple species. Despite patchy effort with little temporal consistency, we found that the abundance of marsh bird species were associated with fairly specific habitats and salinity levels of nearby watercourses. For example, Clapper Rails (Rallus crepitans) were highly associated with highly saline, emergent marsh. Interspecies relationships were complex and species with similar habitat requirements were often found to have negative relationships. These results could be useful for determining which areas that have not been surveyed have the largest potential marsh bird populations and which areas are of highest conservation value for these species.
Carrie Gray, M.S. – BRI’s Research Administration Director
Carrie Gray is a wildlife biologist whose work has most recently focused on capture and satellite deployment efforts of Red-throated Loons along the mid-Atlantic coast.
Determining Wintering Areas and Migration Routes of Red-throated Loons and Northern Gannets in Atlantic Offshore Waters Using Satellite Tracking
Saturday, August 20,11:15-11:30 am
Increased interest in renewable energy has led to the identification of offshore Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) for potential development in Federal waters of the mid-Atlantic United States. Offshore wind turbines have been shown to affect seabirds and other marine wildlife, exposing them to potentially increased mortality through direct collision, and/or increased energetic costs due to habitat loss, changes to prey distributions, and displacement from foraging areas. Red-throated Loon and Northern Gannet populations have previously been identified in European studies as exhibiting a behavioral response of avoiding offshore wind facilities. Substantial proportions of both species occur in the mid-Atlantic region during their winter and migration periods; however, large data gaps exist within this region regarding their wintering distributions, including concentration and timing of use, migratory routes, and stopover areas. In 2012-15, as part of a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project focused on collecting information on distribution and behavior of diving birds, we captured Red-throated Loons and Northern Gannets at sea on their wintering grounds in the mid-Atlantic region and implanted them with satellite transmitters. We calculated composite kernel density (KDE) maps using movement data to identify key wintering areas, as well as important migration habitats and stopover areas for Red-throated Loons and Northern Gannets along the Atlantic flyway.
Andrew Gilbert, M.S.- BRI’s Data and IT Director
Andrew Gilbert oversees all aspects of data management within BRI, and has recently contributed to the development of a new marine wildlife survey app. He has also developed a state-space model examining Northern Gannet distributions in the mid-Atlantic.
A Mobile Avian Survey Data Collection Software Application (SeaScribe)
Wednesday and Thursday, 5:00-7:00 pm
Offshore seabird, marine mammal, and sea turtle surveys are necessary to collect baseline and project-specific data for offshore development. Previously, there were only a couple of computer applications designed to collect such data in the field. These programs are antiquated and sometimes difficult to use with little or no ability to be run using current handheld computing infrastructure, such as tablet computers and smart phones. However, tablet computers and smart phones are now ubiquitous, usually have onboard GPS, Wi-Fi, or cellular connectivity, are relatively low cost, and are easy to weather-proof. We created a freely available, modern survey data collection program (SeaScribe) with enhanced data standardization and improved performance for deployment to those performing marine animal surveys. We designed this program to have built in on-the-fly data checking, improved data standardization across surveys, improved data entry, and readily available quality-controlled data. The application was designed to collect core data but also to give users the flexibility to add data fields as necessary to satisfy research needs. In order to achieve a modern application for this environment, we built SeaScribe from the ground up to best use the most current hardware and software. We also used a cross-development platform to allow for development in one language to be deployed across both Android and Apple iOS operating systems, dramatically reducing the time to release to both platforms and future updates.
Allie Byrd, M.S. – BRI’s Center for Loon Conservation Research Specialist
Allie Byrd studies Common Loons as part of the Restore the Call initiative, a project focused on the loon translocation and reestablishment in the Western, Midwestern, and Northeastern United States.
Restore the Call: Multiregional Translocation of Common Loon Chicks
Wednesday and Thursday, 5:00-7:00 pm
Avian chick translocation and reintroduction are common conservation methods for maintaining or restoring viable populations. Little is known, however, as to how transferrable methods are among species and populations. We implemented a pilot study to assess multiple translocation methods using two different source populations of the Common Loon (Gavia immer). In 2014, we began a collaborative five-year translocation project to re-establish breeding populations in both southeastern Massachusetts and southern Minnesota and serve as a basis for future loon translocation projects in the West, where the species is imperiled. As loons are long-lived and slow to reproduce and colonize new areas, chick translocation may be a viable method to restore loons to areas of their former breeding range. To date, we have translocated 21 wild-caught Common Loon chicks (14 from northern to southern Minnesota and 7 chicks from New York to Massachusetts) using two methods: 1) rearing younger chicks in an aquatic enclosure prior to release (~6 weeks old) ;and 2) direct release of older chicks (~10 weeks old). We aim to: 1) evaluate the effectiveness of Common Loon chick translocation as a conservation strategy; 2) determine the most effective translocation strategy (captive rearing or direct release); 3) establish baseline health parameters for Common Loon chicks; and 4) develop and refine methods and protocols for future loon translocation efforts.
Amy Sauer, M.S., Ph.D Candidate – Songbird Program Director
Amy is a wildlife biologist with 13 years of experience monitoring, capturing, and sampling songbirds and Common Loons. Her doctoral research focuses on the transfer of mercury through terrestrial food webs to songbird communities.
Monitoring Spatial Gradients and Temporal Trends of Mercury in Songbirds of New York State
Wednesday and Thursday, 5:00-7:00 pm
Mercury (Hg) contamination in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems is a widespread issue that poses considerable reproductive, behavioral and physiological risks to wildlife populations. Songbirds are now recognized as indicators of mercury in terrestrial ecosystems, where invertivore food webs biomagnify methylmercury (MeHg) to levels that can adversely affect reproductive success. With upcoming changes to mercury emissions regulations, understanding how methylmercury bioavailability currently varies across the landscape is important for quantifying the effects of these changes. Building upon 13 years of mercury research in New York State, a five-year project was initiated in 2013, to identify at-risk songbird species, classify sensitive habitat types, and to assess spatial and temporal trends of mercury across a variety of ecosystems. To date, a total of 1,347 blood and feather samples have been collected and analyzed from songbirds across the state. This project focuses on: (1) annual sampling and monitoring at established study sites (Adirondack Mountains, Catskill Mountains, and Long Island) to evaluate temporal patterns in songbird mercury exposure; (2) analysis of museum specimens to quantify trends in mercury exposure over the 20th Century; (3) sampling new sites statewide to identify additional mercury hotspots and inclusion into a predictive map documenting spatial gradients of methylmercury availability; and (4) linking mercury exposure with trophic position and diet using stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen.
Patrick Keenan, M.S. – Outreach Director
As BRI’s outreach director, Patrick Keenan works to bring the scientific findings of BRI to students and community members of Maine and beyond. He also oversees our River Point Bird Observatory, where he studies migration, contamination, and disease in songbirds. Additionally, Patrick facilitates Avian Research Supply (ARS) activities at BRI.
Correlations Between Total Mercury (Hg) Measured in Whole Blood (WB) and Packed Cell Volume (PCV) in Passerines with a Focus on Northern Waterthrushes (Parkesia noveborensis)
Wednesday and Thursday, 5:00-7:00 pm
Northern Waterthrush (Parkesia noveborensis) have been recognized as indicators for environmental mercury contamination and existing data suggests exposure across the life cycle for this species. Coincident with blood sampling for a serosurvey study of Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEEv) in passerines we collected whole blood (WB) samples to compare Total Hg in WB with the packed cell volume (PCV) retained after separation from the blood serum. We observed a strong correlation between Hg in total blood compared to PCV (y=1.9865x-0.0266, R2=0.9743, n=17), suggesting that Total Hg in PCV is an acceptable measure of Total Hg in whole blood and that Hg is highly retained in the PCV. It follows that accounting for the proportion of PCV to serum in whole blood, which can vary due to body condition, may offer refinement to this correlation. These results provide data that support the utility of the preservation of blood components for analyses that address different questions. These data also support that Northern Waterthrush are exposed to mercury on their breeding grounds or migration at levels above the lowest observed effects level.
Iain Stenhouse, Ph.D. – Senior Science Director, Director Marine Bird/Arctic Programs
Iain Stenhouse is an avian ecologist with more than 25 years of experience working in marine and Arctic ecosystems. As director of BRI’s Marine Bird Program, he has worked to identify data gaps and fill research needs, particularly in the northeastern United States. He has also coordinated elements of BRI’s baseline ecological studies in the mid-Atlantic region, including the review of high resolution digital aerial surveys. His recent work in marine ecosystems has largely focused on tracking long-distance migrations and on the identification of important areas of marine biodiversity.
Critical Connections: Building a Program to Conserve Migratory Birds in Alaska’s National Parklands
Wednesday and Thursday, 5:00-7:00 pm
Alaska’s National Parklands provide over 54 million acres of critical nesting habitat for an abundance and diversity of long-distance migratory birds that travel across boundaries and habitats throughout the year, including flights across continents and even hemispheres. Nearly all the birds that nest in Alaska are international migrants that provide connections between our remote and wild Alaska parklands and the many visitors that travel here from around the world. The Critical Connections Program will study the year-round movements of migratory birds that next in Alaska’s National Parklands, starting in Denali National Park and Preserve, and will assess how conditions across their annual range affect their ability to return to their northern breeding grounds and successfully raise their young. Co-authors: Laura M. Phillips, Carol L. McIntyre, and Scott Weidensaul.
Biodiversity Research Institute — Booth #39
Please stop by the BRI booth to meet with researchers to discuss current research. Browse our library of science communications materials. Members of the media are welcome.
Avian Research Supplies — Booth #40
BRI is the agent for the Association of Field Ornithologists’ (AFO’s) supply company Avian Research Supplies. We are pleased to be able to provide this important service to field researchers. We offer the highest quality mist nets and bird banding tools and supplies that we ourselves use in the field. To order supplies from our online catalog, visit: www.avianresearchsupplies.org. Proceeds support research grants for students, amateurs, and Latin American researchers.
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