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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Avian Conservation and Ecology, Volume 10, Issue 1. July 2015: Abstracts


Table of Contents: Volume 10, Issue 1


Guest Editorial 

Migratory bird protection, a crack in the armor: the case of the Double-crested Cormorant

Linda R. Wires
The year 2016 marks the centennial of the convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds. Signed on 16 August 1916, this historic convention originated out of the need to protect birds from a long tradition of overuse and destruction. In Canada the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 (MBCA) was passed in 1917, while in the United States the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) was passed in 1918. These acts resulted in the implementation of the convention in each country and provided protection under the law to migratory birds, their nests, and eggs. This protection represents a milestone in bird conservation efforts. To celebrate the centennial, increase awareness of migratory birds, and prepare for the next century of migratory bird conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is planning multiple activities that will occur throughout 2015-2016 ( Environment Canada has not yet announced plans for centennial celebrations, but presumably will also undertake activities to celebrate this event.

Research Paper 

Density dependence and phenological mismatch: consequences for growth and survival of sub-arctic nesting Canada Geese

Rodney W. Brook, James O. Leafloor, Kenneth F. Abraham, and David C. Douglas
The extent to which species are plastic in the timing of their reproductive events relative to phenology suggests how climate change might affect their demography. An ecological mismatch between the timing of hatch for avian species and the peak availability in quality and quantity of forage for rapidly growing offspring might ultimately affect recruitment to the breeding population unless individuals can adjust the timing of breeding to adapt to changing phenology. We evaluated effects of goose density, hatch timing relative to forage plant phenology, and weather indices on annual growth of pre-fledging Canada geese (Branta canadensis) from 1993-2010 at Akimiski Island, Nunavut. We found effects of both density and hatch timing relative to forage plant phenology; the earlier that eggs hatched relative to forage plant phenology, the larger the mean gosling size near fledging. Goslings were smallest in years when hatch was latest relative to forage plant phenology, and when local abundance of breeding adults was highest. We found no evidence for a trend in relative hatch timing, but it was apparent that in early springs, Canada geese tended to hatch later relative to vegetation phenology, suggesting that geese were not always able to adjust the timing of nesting as rapidly as vegetation phenology was advanced. Analyses using forage biomass information revealed a positive relationship between gosling size and per capita biomass availability, suggesting a causal mechanism for the density effect. The effects of weather parameters explained additional variation in mean annual gosling size, although total June and July rainfall had a small additive effect on gosling size. Modelling of annual first-year survival probability using mean annual gosling size as an annual covariate revealed a positive relationship, suggesting that reduced gosling growth negatively impacts recruitment.

Predicting origins of passerines migrating through Canadian migration monitoring stations using stable-hydrogen isotope analyses of feathers: a new tool for bird conservation

Keith A. Hobson, Steve L. Van Wilgenburg, Erica H. Dunn, David J. T. Hussell, Philip D. Taylor, and Douglas M. Collister
The Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN) consists of standardized observation and migration count stations located largely along Canada’s southern border. A major purpose of CMMN is to detect population trends of migratory passerines that breed primarily in the boreal forest and are otherwise poorly monitored by the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). A primary limitation of this approach to monitoring is that it is currently not clear which geographic regions of the boreal forest are represented by the trends generated for each bird species at each station or group of stations. Such information on “catchment areas” for CMMN will greatly enhance their value in contributing to understanding causes of population trends, as well as facilitating joint trend analysis for stations with similar catchments. It is now well established that naturally occurring concentrations of deuterium in feathers grown in North America can provide information on their approximate geographic origins, especially latitude. We used stable hydrogen isotope analyses of feathers (δ²Hf) from 15 species intercepted at 22 CMMN stations to assign approximate origins to populations moving through stations or groups of stations. We further constrained the potential catchment areas using prior information on potential longitudinal origins based upon bird migration trajectories predicted from band recovery data and known breeding distributions. We detected several cases of differences in catchment area of species passing through sites, and between seasons within species. We discuss the importance of our findings, and future directions for using this approach to assist conservation of migratory birds at continental scales.

Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) population increases in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland: evidence for habitat saturation?

Karla R. Letto, Yolanda F Wiersma, Joe Brazil, and Bruce Rodrigues
Across North America, Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) populations appear to be recovering following bans of DDT. A limited number of studies from across North America have recorded a surplus of nonbreeding adult Bald Eagles in dense populations when optimal habitat and food become limited. Placentia Bay, Newfoundland is one of these. The area has one of the highest densities of Bald Eagles in eastern North America, and has recently experienced an increase in the proportion of nonbreeding adults within the population. We tested whether the observed Bald Eagle population trends in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland during the breeding seasons 1990-2009 are due to habitat saturation. We found no significant differences in habitat or food resource characteristics between occupied territories and pseudo-absence data or between nest sites with high vs. low nest activity/occupancy rates. Therefore there is no evidence for habitat saturation for Bald Eagles in Placentia Bay and alternative hypotheses for the high proportion of nonbreeding adults should be considered. The Newfoundland population provides an interesting case for examination because it did not historically appear to be affected by pollution. An understanding of Bald Eagle population dynamics in a relatively pristine area with a high density can be informative for restoration and conservation of Bald Eagle populations elsewhere.

Trends and tactics of mouse predation on Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena chicks at Gough Island, South Atlantic Ocean

Delia Davies, Ben J. Dilley, Alexander L. Bond, Richard J. Cuthbert, and Peter G. Ryan
The critically endangered Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena breeds almost exclusively on Gough Island, in the central South Atlantic, where breeding success is much lower than other great albatrosses (Diomedea spp.) worldwide. Most breeding failures occur during the chick-rearing stage, when other great albatrosses suffer few failures. This unusual pattern of breeding failure is assumed to be largely due to predation by introduced house mice Mus musculus, but there have been few direct observations of mouse attacks. We closely monitored the fates of 20 chicks in the Gonydale study colony (123 chicks in 2014) using motion-activated cameras to determine the causes of chick mortality. Only 5 of 20 chicks survived to fledge, and of the 15 failures, 14 (93%) were due to mouse predation. One mouse-wounded chick was killed by a Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus; the rest died outright from their wounds within 3.9 ± 1.2 days of the first attack. Despite this high impact, most chicks were attacked by only 1-2 mice at once (maximum 9). The remaining 103 chicks in the study colony were checked less frequently, but the timing of failures was broadly similar to the 20 closely monitored nests, and the presence of mouse wounds on other chicks strongly suggests that mice were responsible for most chick deaths. Breeding success in the Gonydale study colony averages 28% from 2001 to 2014; far lower than the normal range of breeding success of Diomedea species occurring on islands free from introduced predators. Island-wide breeding success fell below 10% for the first time in 2014, making it even more urgent to eradicate mice from Gough Island.

Variables associated with nest survival of Golden-winged Warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera) among vegetation communities commonly used for nesting

Kyle R. Aldinger, Theron M. Terhune II, Petra B. Wood, David A. Buehler, Marja H. Bakermans, John L. Confer, David J. Flaspohler, Jeffrey L. Larkin, John P. Loegering, Katie L. Percy, Amber M. Roth, and Curtis G. Smalling
Among shrubland- and young forest-nesting bird species in North America, Golden-winged Warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera) are one of the most rapidly declining partly because of limited nesting habitat. Creation and management of high quality vegetation communities used for nesting are needed to reduce declines. Thus, we examined whether common characteristics could be managed across much of the Golden-winged Warbler’s breeding range to increase daily survival rate (DSR) of nests. We monitored 388 nests on 62 sites throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia. We evaluated competing DSR models in spatial-temporal (dominant vegetation type, population segment, state, and year), intraseasonal (nest stage and time-within-season), and vegetation model suites. The best-supported DSR models among the three model suites suggested potential associations between daily survival rate of nests and state, time-within-season, percent grass and Rubus cover within 1 m of the nest, and distance to later successional forest edge. Overall, grass cover (negative association with DSR above 50%) and Rubus cover (DSR lowest at about 30%) within 1 m of the nest and distance to later successional forest edge (negative association with DSR) may represent common management targets across our states for increasing Golden-winged Warbler DSR, particularly in the Appalachian Mountains population segment. Context-specific adjustments to management strategies, such as in wetlands or areas of overlap with Blue-winged Warblers (Vermivora cyanoptera), may be necessary to increase DSR for Golden-winged Warblers.

Changes in heron and egret populations on the Laurentian Great Lakes and connecting channels, 1977-2009

Scott A Rush, Cynthia Pekarik, D.V. Weseloh, Francesca Cuthbert, David Moore, and Linda Wires
Canadian and U.S. federal wildlife agencies completed four decadal surveys, spanning the years 1977 to 2009, to census colonial waterbirds breeding on the Great Lakes and adjoining bodies of water. In this paper, we reports abundance, distribution, and general population trends of three species: Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Great Egret (Ardea alba), and Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias). Estimates of nest numbers ranged from approximately 4000-6100 for the Black-crowned Night-Heron, 250-1900 for the Great Egret, and 3800-6400 for the Great Blue Heron. Average annual rates of change in nest numbers between the first (1977) and fourth (2008) census were −1% for the Black-crowned Night-Heron, +23% for the Great Egret, and −0.27% for the Great Blue Heron. Across the 30-year census, Black-crowned Night-Heron estimates decreased in U.S. (−57%) but increased (+18%) in Canadian waters, Great Egret nests increased 1381% in Canadian waters with a smaller, but still substantial increase in the number of nests at U.S. colonies (+613%), and Great Blue Heron numbers increased 148% in Canadian waters and 713% in U.S. waters. Although a single factor cannot be clearly linked to changes observed in each species’ distribution, hydrological variation, habitat succession, nest competition with Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), and land use changes likely all contributed. Management activities should support both breeding and foraging conditions including restoration of early successional habitats and anticipate continued northward expansions in the distributions of these waterbirds.

Suburban immigrants to wildlands disrupt honest signaling in ultra-violet plumage

Angela Tringali and Reed Bowman
Urbanization changes habitat in a multitude of ways, including altering food availability. Access to human-provided food can change the relationship between body condition and honest advertisements of fitness, which may result in changes to behavior, demography, and metapopulation dynamics. We compared plumage color, its relationship with body condition and feather growth, and use as signal of dominance between a suburban and a wildland population of Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). Although plumage color was not related to body condition at either site, suburban birds had plumage with a greater proportion of total reflectance in the ultra-violet (UV) and peak reflectance at shorter wavelengths. Despite the use of plumage reflectance as a signal of dominance among individuals in the wildlands, we found no evidence of status signaling at the suburban site. However, birds emigrating from the suburban site to the wildland site tended to be more successful at acquiring breeder status but less successful at reproducing than were immigrants from an adjacent wildland site, suggesting that signaled and realized quality differ. These differences in signaling content among populations could have demographic effects at metapopulation scales and may represent an evolutionary trap whereby suburban immigrants are preferred as mates even though their reproductive success relative to effort is lower.

Stand and within-stand factors influencing Golden-winged Warbler use of regenerating stands in the central Appalachian Mountains

Marja H Bakermans, Brian W Smith, Benjamin C Jones, and Jeffery L Larkin
The Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is currently being considered for protected status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The creation of breeding habitat in the Appalachian Mountains is considered a conservation priority for this songbird, which is dependent on extensively forested landscapes with adequate availability of young forest. We modeled abundance of Golden-winged Warbler males in regenerating harvested forest stands that were 0-17 years postharvest at both mid-Appalachian and northeast Pennsylvania regional scales using stand and within-stand characteristics of 222 regenerating stands, 2010-2011. Variables that were most influential at the mid-Appalachian scale were different than those in the northeast region. Across the mid-Appalachian ecoregion, the proportion of young forest cover, i.e., shrub/scrub cover, within 1 km of regenerating stands best explained abundance of Golden-winged Warblers. Golden-winged Warbler response was best explained by a concave quadratic relationship in which abundance was highest with 5-15% land in young forest cover. We also found evidence that the amount of herbaceous cover, i.e., the amount of grasses and forbs, within a regenerating stand positively influenced abundance of Golden-winged Warblers. In northeastern Pennsylvania, where young forest cover is found in high proportions, the distance to the nearest regenerating stand best explained variation in abundance of Golden-winged Warblers. Abundance of Golden-winged Warblers was <1 male per survey when another regenerating stand was >1500 m away. When modeling within-stand features in the northeast region, many of the models were closely ranked, indicating that multiple variables likely explained Golden-winged Warbler response to within-stand conditions. Based on our findings, we have proposed several management guidelines for land managers interested in creating breeding habitat for Golden-winged Warblers using commercial timber operations. For example, we recommend when managing for Golden-winged Warblers in the central Appalachian Mountains that managers should strive for 15% young forest in a heavily forested landscape (>70% forest cover) and cluster stands within 1-2 km of other young forest habitats.

Assessing the use of forest islands by parrot species in a neotropical savanna

Igor Berkunsky, María V Simoy, Rosana E. Cepeda, Claudia Marinelli, Federico P. Kacoliris, Gonzalo Daniele, Agustina Cortelezzi, José A. Díaz-Luque, Juan Mateo Friedman, and Rosana M. Aramburú
Understanding the effect of habitat fragmentation is a fundamental yet complicated aim of many ecological studies. Beni savanna is a naturally fragmented forest habitat, where forest islands exhibit variation in resources and threats. To understand how the availability of resources and threats affect the use of forest islands by parrots, we applied occupancy modeling to quantify use and detection probabilities for 12 parrot species on 60 forest islands. The presence of urucuri (Attalea phalerata) and macaw (Acrocomia aculeata) palms, the number of tree cavities on the islands, and the presence of selective logging,and fire were included as covariates associated with availability of resources and threats. The model-selection analysis indicated that both resources and threats variables explained the use of forest islands by parrots. For most species, the best models confirmed predictions. The number of cavities was positively associated with use of forest islands by 11 species. The area of the island and the presence of macaw palm showed a positive association with the probability of use by seven and five species, respectively, while selective logging and fire showed a negative association with five and six species, respectively. The Blue-throated Macaw (Ara glaucogularis), the critically endangered parrot species endemic to our study area, was the only species that showed a negative association with both threats. Monitoring continues to be essential to evaluate conservation and management actions of parrot populations. Understanding of how species are using this natural fragmented habitat will help determine which fragments should be preserved and which conservation actions are needed.

Piping Plover response to coastal storms occurring during the nonbreeding season

Nadine R Bourque, Marc-André Villard, Marc J. Mazerolle, Diane Amirault-Langlais, Eric Tremblay, and Serge Jolicoeur
The increase in coastal storm frequency and intensity expected under most climate change scenarios is likely to substantially modify beach configuration and associated habitats. This study aimed to analyze the impact of coastal storms on a nesting population of the endangered Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus melodus) in southeastern New Brunswick, Canada. Previous studies have shown that numbers of nesting Piping Plovers may increase following storms that create new nesting habitat at individual beaches. However, to our knowledge, no test of this pattern has been conducted over a regional scale. We hypothesized that Piping Plover abundance would increase after large coastal storms occurring during the nonbreeding season. However, we expected a delay in the colonization of newly created habitat owing to low-density populations, combined with high site fidelity of adults and high variability in survival rate of subadults. We tested this hypothesis using a 27-year (1986-2012) data set of Piping Plover abundance and productivity (nesting pairs and fledged young) collected at five sites in eastern New Brunswick. We identified 11 major storms that could potentially have modified Piping Plover habitat over the study period. The number of fledged young increased three years after a major storm, but the relationship was much weaker for the number of nesting pairs. These findings are consistent with the hypothesized increase in suitable habitat after coastal storms. Including storm occurrence with other factors influencing habitat quality will enhance Piping Plover conservation strategies.


Threshold detection: matching statistical methodology to ecological questions and conservation planning objectives

Judith D. Toms and Marc-André Villard
Two types of ecological thresholds are now being widely used to develop conservation targets: breakpoint-based thresholds represent tipping points where system properties change dramatically, whereas classification thresholds identify groups of data points with contrasting properties. Both breakpoint-based and classification thresholds are useful tools in evidence-based conservation. However, it is critical that the type of threshold to be estimated corresponds with the question of interest and that appropriate statistical procedures are used to determine its location. On the basis of their statistical properties, we recommend using piecewise regression methods to identify breakpoint-based thresholds and discriminant analysis or classification and regression trees to identify classification thresholds.

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