Recent restrictions on uranium mining within the Grand Canyon watershed have drawn attention to scientific data gaps in evaluating the possible effects of ore extraction to human populations as well as wildlife communities in the area. Tissue contaminant concentrations, one of the most basic data requirements to determine exposure, are not available for biota from any historical or active uranium mines in the region. The Canyon Uranium Mine is under development, providing a unique opportunity to characterize concentrations of uranium and other trace elements, as well as radiation levels in biota, found in the vicinity of the mine before ore extraction begins. Our study objectives were to identify contaminants of potential concern and critical contaminant exposure pathways for ecological receptors; conduct biological surveys to understand the local food web and refine the list of target species (ecological receptors) for contaminant analysis; and collect target species for contaminant analysis prior to the initiation of active mining. Contaminants of potential concern were identified as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, thallium, uranium, and zinc for chemical toxicity and uranium and associated radionuclides for radiation. The conceptual exposure model identified ingestion, inhalation, absorption, and dietary transfer (bioaccumulation or bioconcentration) as critical contaminant exposure pathways. The biological survey of plants, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and small mammals is the first to document and provide ecological information on >200 species in and around the mine site; this study also provides critical baseline information about the local food web. Most of the species documented at the mine are common to ponderosa pine Pinus ponderosa and pinyon–juniper Pinus–Juniperus spp. forests in northern Arizona and are not considered to have special conservation status by state or federal agencies; exceptions are the locally endemic Tusayan flameflower Phemeranthus validulus, the long-legged bat Myotis volans, and the Arizona bat Myotis occultus. The most common vertebrate species identified at the mine site included the Mexican spadefoot toad Spea multiplicata, plateau fence lizard Sceloporus tristichus, violet-green swallow Tachycineta thalassina, pygmy nuthatch Sitta pygmaea, purple martin Progne subis, western bluebird Sialia mexicana, deermouse Peromyscus maniculatus, valley pocket gopher Thomomys bottae, cliff chipmunk Tamias dorsalis, black-tailed jackrabbit Lepus californicus, mule deer Odocoileus hemionus, and elk Cervus canadensis. A limited number of the most common species were collected for contaminant analysis to establish baseline contaminant and radiological concentrations prior to ore extraction. These empirical baseline data will help validate contaminant exposure pathways and potential threats from contaminant exposures to ecological receptors. Resource managers will also be able to use these data to determine the extent to which local species are exposed to chemical and radiation contamination once the mine is operational and producing ore. More broadly, these data could inform resource management decisions on mitigating chemical and radiation exposure of biota at high-grade uranium breccia pipes throughout the Grand Canyon watershed.
Estimating risks to aquatic life using quantile regression
One of the primary goals of biological assessment is to assess whether contaminants or other stressors limit the ecological potential of running waters. It is important to interpret responses to contaminants relative to other environmental factors, but necessity or convenience limit quantification of all factors that influence ecological potential. In these situations, the concept of limiting factors is useful for data interpretation. We used quantile regression to measure risks to aquatic life exposed to metals by including all regression quantiles (τ = 0.05–0.95, by increments of 0.05), not just the upper limit of density (e.g., 90th quantile). We measured population densities (individuals/0.1 m2) of 2 mayflies (Rhithrogena spp., Drunella spp.) and a caddisfly (Arctopsyche grandis), aqueous metal mixtures (Cd, Cu, Zn), and other limiting factors (basin area, site elevation, discharge, temperature) at 125 streams in Colorado. We used a model selection procedure to test which factor was most limiting to density. Arctopsyche grandis was limited by other factors, whereas metals limited most quantiles of density for the 2 mayflies. Metals reduced mayfly densities most at sites where other factors were not limiting. Where other factors were limiting, low mayfly densities were observed despite metal concentrations. Metals affected mayfly densities most at quantiles above the mean and not just at the upper limit of density. Risk models developed from quantile regression showed that mayfly densities observed at background metal concentrations are improbable when metal mixtures are at US Environmental Protection Agency criterion continuous concentrations. We conclude that metals limit potential density, not realized average density. The most obvious effects on mayfly populations were at upper quantiles and not mean density. Therefore, we suggest that policy developed from mean-based measures of effects may not be as useful as policy based on the concept of limiting factors.
Landscape features influence postrelease predation on endangered black-footed ferrets
Poessel, S.A., S.W. Breck, D.E. Biggins, T.M. Livieri, K.R. Crooks, and L. Angeloni
Predation can be a critical factor influencing recovery of endangered species. In most recovery efforts lethal and nonlethal influences of predators are not sufficiently understood to allow prediction of predation risk, despite its importance. We investigated whether landscape features could be used to model predation risk from coyotes (Canis latrans) and great horned owls (Bubo virginianus) on the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). We used location data of reintroduced ferrets from 3 sites in South Dakota to determine whether exposure to landscape features typically associated with predators affected survival of ferrets, and whether ferrets considered predation risk when choosing habitat near perches potentially used by owls or near linear features predicted to be used by coyotes. Exposure to areas near likely owl perches reduced ferret survival, but landscape features potentially associated with coyote movements had no appreciable effect on survival. Ferrets were located within 90 m of perches more than expected in 2 study sites that also had higher ferret mortality due to owl predation. Densities of potential coyote travel routes near ferret locations were no different than expected in all 3 sites. Repatriated ferrets might have selected resources based on factors other than predator avoidance. Considering an easily quantified landscape feature (i.e., owl perches) can enhance success of reintroduction efforts for ferrets. Nonetheless, development of predictive models of predation risk and management strategies to mitigate that risk is not necessarily straightforward for more generalist predators such as coyotes.
Incorporating classification uncertainty in competing-risks nest-failure analysis
Risk analysis tools have been successfully used to determine the potential hazard associated with disease introductions and have facilitated management decisions designed to limit the potential for disease introduction. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) poses significant challenges for resource managers due to an incomplete understanding of disease etiology and epidemiology and the complexity of management and political jurisdictions. Tools designed specifically to assess the risk of CWD introduction would be of great value to policy makers in areas where CWD has not been detected.
Perceptions, Values, and Knowledge of Wildlife Disease and Human/Wildlife Interactions
Managers need to understand how to best collaborate and communicate with the general public about wildlife disease and the interactions between humans and wildlife. Concern for human risk due to wildlife disease (e.g., chronic wasting disease, avian influenza, West Nile disease, plague) has grown in recent years. With growth in human population and global interconnectivity, in addition to increasing ecotourism and outdoor recreation, humans find themselves sharing more space with wildlife. It is important to understand the socioeconomic considerations and societal implications of these human-wildlife interactions. Specific objectives of this task include measuring human perceptions, values, and knowledge of wildlife disease and human-wildlife interactions. Current research includes a study to understand public perceptions and knowledge of bats and rabies by residents of Fort Collins, Colorado. Other research has involved the human dimensions aspects of bears and avian influenza. Clients for this research include the National Science Foundation and State and county public health officials.