The Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative (DLCC) funds and must track numerous science projects over multiple fiscal years. Each project generates many products that need to be shared among LCCs as well as with other cooperators and the public. This is an enormous challenge, requiring substantial computer architectural support and consulting services.
The DLCC uses tools developed by FORT such as RFPManager to manage their Requests for Proposals, DEPTH to catalog their projects, DMPEditor to create and edit data management plans, ScienceBase to catalog projects and product deliverables, and ScienceBase web services to facilitate other applications such as Data Basin and LCC public facing websites. The Fort Collins Science Center Information Science Branch provides consultation and support for using these tools to assist the DLCC in project tracking, product presentation, product discoverability and data management.
Grasshopper Sparrow Focal Species Conservation Action Plan
Baby Grasshopper Sparrows in their nest. Photo by Janet Ruth, USGS.
A female Grasshopper Sparrow sits in her nest. Photo by Janet Ruth, USGS.
Janet Ruth releasing a banded male Grasshopper Sparrow. Photo by Noel Snyder.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Migratory Bird Program has a Focal Species strategy to better measure its success in achieving bird conservation priorities and mandates. The Focal Species strategy involves campaigns for selected species to provide explicit, strategic, and adaptive sets of conservation actions required to return the species to healthy and sustainable levels. In 2012, USFWS chose to begin addressing the Grasshopper Sparrow as a Focal Species and initiated plans to develop a conservation action plan for the species. The species is broadly distributed in North America, with different subspecies experiencing different threats and limiting factors. The Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) is listed as a Bird of Conservation Concern for USFWS Regions 2 and 6, and for a number of Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) – 11, 16, 17, 22, 31, 34, and 37. The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow subspecies (A. s. floridanus) is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, and the Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow subspecies (A. s. ammolegus) is listed as endangered by the state of New Mexico. Partners in Flight (PIF) also recognizes the Grasshopper Sparrow as a National Stewardship species, and it is listed as a priority species in several western state PIF Bird Conservation Plans (e.g., Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana).
In collaboration with the USFWS, the USGS will develop a Grasshopper Sparrow Conservation Action Plan that will provide explicit, strategic, and adaptive sets of conservation actions required to return the species to healthy and sustainable population levels. The primary components of the plan will be a discussion of what is known about threats and limiting factors, population goals and objectives, presentation of recommended priority conservation actions, and methods for evaluating success. The plan will also include an overview of natural history, range and distribution, population status and trends, legal status, and literature cited and other available references. The conservation actions will be presented in a table format that presents action items and prioritizes them; identifies a lead party and potential partners; describes anticipated outcomes; and, where possible, provides timelines and cost estimates for each accomplishment. Action items will include conservation management priorities, the research and monitoring actions needed to inform management, and the outreach needed to accomplish conservation.
Contaminant Biology: Stable Isotope Applications
Two scientist work on a study of mercury contamination in the water. USGS Photo.
Scientists study contaminants in the water in areas like this
Environmental contaminants of natural and anthropogenic origin represent a major stressor to ecosystems, including human and wildlife populations. A better mechanistic understanding of contaminant cycling under natural environmental conditions is necessary to mitigate and protect our natural resources. Stable isotope techniques are extremely useful in resolving trophic pathways by which contaminants become bioavailable, bioaccumulate, and biomagnify. The objectives of this project are to:
Utilize stable isotopes to better resolve the geochemical cycling of contaminants that influences bioavailability.
Use stable isotope data to constrain contaminant sources.
Employ stable isotope techniques to infer trophic transfer pathways of select contaminants.
A Synthesis of Avian Projects in Semidesert Grasslands and Pine-Oak Woodlands
As Joint Ventures (JVs) become more involved in bringing together partners to work on bird conservation, they generate more interest in conducting avian research, monitoring, education and outreach, or on-the-ground management in support of that conservation. It is the experience of JVs that partners frequently are not aware of projects with the same or similar objectives that have already been done and published (or not), or that are currently being conducted. Without this knowledge, it is possible that redundant projects will be proposed and funded with limited resources, and connections with potential partners will be missed. Two high priority habitat types—Semidesert (and Plains) grasslands and Madrean Pine-Oak Woodlands—lie largely within the boundaries of four JVs: the Sonoran JV, Rio Grande JV, Playa Lakes JV, and Intermountain West JV. The purpose of this task is to compile information about past and current bird-related research, monitoring, education and outreach, and conservation projects in these two target habitat types. Investigators also will identify potential conservation partners. Searches for information will include literature searches; online reference searches; contacts with federal, state, and local management agencies, conservation organizations, and private contractors in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, Durango, and surrounding states; contacts with universities and colleges; and contacts with JV partners and other bird conservation initiatives (e.g., Partners in Flight). This information—contact information, project location, funding sources, project partners, methods and objectives, products, etc.—will be entered into a searchable database. In addition, assistance will be provided to JVs in conducting activities (e.g., workshops) using these data to inform project planning and prioritization, and information about the 4–5 major management issues facing these two habitat types and their avian communities will be synthesized for publication. A coordinated effort using information from this project will (1) allow a much more effective allocation of limited resources and (2) avoid a haphazard approach to identifying and funding projects and the potential duplication that may result.
Grassland Ecology and Conservation
A young ferret peaks out of his burrow. Photo by Dean Biggins, USGS.
Grasslands are arguably one of the most anthropogenically stressed ecosystems of the western United States. The highly endangered black-footed ferret and prairie dogs epitomize grassland mammals of high conservation concern. The Utah prairie dog is a federally listed species, while black-tailed prairie dogs, white-tailed prairie dogs, and Gunnison's prairie dogs all have received attention in the form of listing proposals. Research conducted within this project will focus on these imperiled prairie dog communities and their vertebrate and invertebrate associates, but will not necessarily be limited to those communities. Studies will be driven by the need to better understand ecological relationships among grassland animals, interactions of these animals with their environments, and anthropogenic influences affecting these systems. There will be a continuing emphasis on research with conservation applications.
FORT personnel involved in the Grasslands Ecology and Conservation Project maintain close contact with the Black-footed Ferret and Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Implementation Teams, are members of various subcommittees of those groups, and are involved in various other groups working on conservation of prairie dogs and other grassland species.
Wintering Habitat Use by Priority Grassland Birds
Baird's sparrow being held by Dr. Janet Ruth
Grasshopper Sparrow. Photo by Narca Moore-Craig.
Janet Ruth banding a sparrow. Photo by Narca Moore-Craig.
Baird's Sparrow being banded.
Volunteers flushing sparrows into mist-nets. Photo by Alice Levine.
"Birder's Grip" - Eastern Meadowlark. Photo by Alice Levine.
Endemic grassland birds have shown steeper, more consistent, and more widespread declines than any other behavioral or ecological guild of North American avian species. Understanding habitat relationships is essential for conservation of such species of concern, since knowledge of the range of habitats that a species can use could facilitate achievement of management goals. Research identifying vegetative structure and composition associated with select breeding grassland birds is limited, and virtually nothing is known about grassland structure and composition as used by wintering populations. In the southwestern U.S. and Mexico, where many of these grassland birds winter, major resource management issues potentially affecting their status are grazing regime and fire effects on bird habitat. The objectives of this task are to understand how wintering grassland birds use habitats (vegetative structure and composition); how winter habitat use is affected by land use practices such as grazing; and how wintering grassland birds respond to wildfire and its effects on grassland habitat. The first phase of this project, studying the vegetative habitats used by wintering sparrows, was conducted from 1999–2001 on seven sites in southeastern Arizona semidesert and Plains grasslands. An opportunity to address issues related to fire was presented in April 2002, when the Ryan wildfire swept through 38,000 acres of foothills and grasslands at the southern end of the Sonoita Valley, Ariz. The fire burned over 90 percent of the Audubon Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, one of the project's research sites. This offered a valuable and unexpected opportunity to conduct a second phase of post-fire research (2003–2005) to determine the effects of such a substantial fire on the wintering grassland birds on two of the seven sites studied before the fire (one burned, one unburned). Research results will help fill substantial information gaps concerning the impacts of fire on bird communities in grassland ecosystems, especially birds that use these habitats in the winter, and will better inform conservation efforts.
Status and Breeding Ecology of the Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow
Janet Ruth releasing a color-banded male Grasshopper Sparrow. Photo by Noel Snyder.
Baby Grasshopper Sparrows in their nest. Photo by Janet Ruth.
A female Grasshopper Sparrow sitting on her nest. Photo by Janet Ruth.
The Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum ammolegus) is a disjunct race that breeds in desert grasslands of southeastern Arizona, extreme southwestern New Mexico, and adjacent parts of northern Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico. This subspecies was only recently documented as breeding in the Animas Valley of New Mexico. Partners in Flight and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both consider it a subspecies of conservation concern for desert grassland habitats. Concerns regarding this subspecies focus on the apparent extreme fluctuations in a relatively small breeding population, the effects of habitat loss due to suburban development, the effects of habitat modification due to management practices such as fire and intensive grazing, and limited information about its breeding ecology. This task will provide valuable information to managers by addressing research needs identified in the Partners in Flight Bird Conservation Plans for Arizona and New Mexico. The initial phase of this research involved the repetition of historical roadside breeding-bird surveys of abundance and distribution that were conducted in 1982 and 1987 in order to compare abundance and distribution over this time period. These comparisons showed that the Sonoita and San Rafael Valleys in Arizona and the Animas Valley in New Mexico continue to support the primary population centers for this subspecies. A pattern of increasing numbers of singing males was documented from 1982–1987 from the historical surveys, and a subsequent decline to intermediate numbers (higher than 1982 but lower than 1987) was documented in 2004–2005. Small populations remain in other grassland valleys in southeastern Arizona. A second phase of this task was initiated in 2009 with Arizona Grasshopper Sparrow breeding ecology studies to map territories, measure territory vegetation, band individuals, and search for and monitor nests on two sites within the core breeding range in the Sonoita Valley.
Partners in Flight (PIF) is an interagency, interorganizational coalition working together to promote bird conservation. As the research agency in the Department of the Interior, USGS has a responsibility to participate in and contribute to avian conservation planning and science. It is necessary to have designated representatives from USGS who participate regularly in PIF and transmit information about PIF to the appropriate contacts within USGS. This task provides USGS with a designated Partners in Flight Coordinator/contact to ensure that (1) USGS interests are represented within PIF, (2) PIF information is disseminated throughout the USGS, and (3) the USGS is capable of incorporating PIF’s bird conservation priorities into its science plans and budgets. The PIF Coordinator for USGS represents USGS at regular national and international PIF meetings and contributes regularly to the international PIF Science Committee on avian research and monitoring issues.
Migration Stopover Ecology of Western Avian Populations: Geographic Distribution
Scientists from the USGS Fort Collins Science Center are studying migration stopover ecology of western land bird populations to identify geographic patterns of distribution and habitat use during migration in southwestern North America. This task synthesizes existing data from many studies and is an initial step in identifying regions important to “en route” western birds. This information can help managers to prioritize habitat management activities in the region to benefit these visitors.
The Biogeography of Marbled Godwit Populations in North America
Many migratory shorebird species have experienced population declines over the past decades. The U.S. and Canadian Shorebird Conservation Plans have identified one such species, the Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), as a "Species of High Concern." To ensure protection of habitats important to this migratory bird, managers need a clear understanding of linkages between specific breeding areas and wintering grounds and key stopover sites used during spring and fall migration. FORT biologists are working with other biologists from the U.S, Canada, and Mexico to
identify the migration pathways and breeding and wintering sites for selected godwits from the three breeding populations (the Midcontinent of North America; the James Bay/Hudson Bay, Canada; and the Alaska Peninsula);
characterize the weekly movements of godwits and estimate the length-of-stay of radio-tagged godwits at their respective winter and breeding sites;
estimate the length-of-stay of selected godwits during spring and fall migration at migratory stopovers, including the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah;
characterize the stable isotope signature of birds captured at their respective breeding, wintering, and migration stopover sites; and
estimate the body fat of captured birds at all sites.
The first 3 objectives are being accomplished through the use of satellite telemetry: transmitters have been placed on a number of godwits from both the Midcontinent and James Bay, Canada, populations, and more captures are planned. Data transmission from outfitted birds, as well as data analysis, is ongoing.