NEWS RELEASE: March 23, 2019 CONTACT: John Alexander, Executive Director, Klamath Bird Observatory, 541‐890‐7067, jda@KlamathBird.org
Managers charged with stewarding public and private lands strive to protect, maintain, and restore healthy forest conditions that are resilient to drought, flood, and severe wildfire. Managers often rely on the presence of indicator species and species richness (i.e., the number of species present) to assess the value of different forest conditions to wildlife; however, relying on an indicator species or estimates of richness does not directly measure in what way focal habitats support the life history needs of individual species. For example, a bird provisioning food to nestlings is a more meaningful metric than a bird of the same species simply dispersing through a focal habitat. Unfortunately, classical measures of richness often treat these two hypothetical birds as similar when assessing the value of forests to wildlife. While past conservation planning has largely focused on wildlife presence, new research suggests assessing habitat value throughout the entire avian life cycle will provide a more holistic approach to management.
Recognizing the need for a better assessment of forest value to wildlife, a team of researchers from Klamath Bird Observatory, the Forest Service, and Michigan Technological University developed the “informed indices” concept. This new and impactful method scales diversity estimates by meaningful phases of each species lifecycle, such as breeding and feather replacement (i.e., molt). For proof-of-concept, the collaborative team used 18 years of bird capture data from across multiple forest types in California and Oregon to determine how measures of diversity change for bird communities across the breeding and molting seasons.
“We were surprised to find that forests with diverse breeding bird communities sometimes hosted relatively depauperate molting communities, demonstrating that a single location’s value is dynamic, changing from high to low depending on what part of the avian lifecycle a manager is considering” said Dr. Jared Wolfe, Klamath Bird Observatory Research Associate and lead author of the study.
“Instead of relying on simple measures of presence and absence, our informed indices concept assesses wildlife across biologically-meaningful seasons. This is an important improvement because it identifies essential variation in the value of forest to wildlife, thereby allowing managers to properly conserve wildlife throughout North America and beyond” said Dr. John Alexander, Klamath Bird Observatory Executive Director and co-author of the study.
About Klamath Bird Observatory: Klamath Bird Observatory advances bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships. We work in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds of our region. We developed our award-winning conservation model in the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California. Emphasizing high caliber science and the role of birds as indicators of the health of the land, we specialize in cost-effective bird monitoring and research projects that improve natural resource management. Also, recognizing that conservation occurs across many fronts, we nurture a conservation ethic in our communities through our outreach and educational programs. Visit Klamath Bird Observatory at www.KlamathBird.org.
Klamath Bird Observatory is offering two unique opportunities to participate in our long-term landbird monitoring program. A Bird Banding Workshop at KBO’s Upper Klamath Field Station in southern Oregon on August 5-9 2019 and a Bird Banding Field Course, a 10-30 day opportunity to immerse yourself in the life of a field ornithologist and obtain a comprehensive introduction to bird banding and other field methodologies.
CLICK HERE to read more about these exciting bird banding opportunities.
The study of natural areas can improve our understanding of plants and animals that occupy different habitats. Land managers need this kind of information for making decisions about how best to manage, restore, or protect their lands. However, it is not possible to measure each aspect of biodiversity. Studying one or several species to better understand the natural area as a whole is a common, but relatively understudied, practice. In the Pacific Northwest, Partners in Flight – a broad partnership aimed at conserving bird populations – has been using birds as focal species for nearly 20 years. The premise is that a suite of songbird species that are closely tied to key habitat features will represent many other bird species and other elements of biodiversity.
New research examines the focal species approach
Scientists from Klamath Bird Observatory and the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network of the National Park Service teamed up to think about how the focal species approach is being applied to six national parks in southern Oregon and northern California. Specifically, we examined whether the Partners in Flight focal species, which are derived from expert opinions and knowledge of birds and their habitats, did a good job at representing three additional management concerns: 1) vegetation, 2) other songbirds, and 3) more specifically, songbirds in decline. We then tested whether we could develop a focal species list from existing park-specific bird surveys that would do a better job at representing the other groups. The results were recently published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications in an article titled Established and Empirically Derived Landbird Focal Species Lists Correlate with Vegetation and Avian Metrics(CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PUBLICATION).
Why does this matter?
If focal species do a good job at representing other groups of birds or vegetation, then the list can help land managers make better decisions about natural areas. Deciding which correlations are most important will depend on the management question at hand. For example, with vegetation management, if focal species are highly correlated with other songbirds and vegetation, managers can confidently apply their knowledge about the focal species to planning needs, such as developing a restoration strategy.
What have we learned?
Partners in Flight focal species represented three other components of biodiversity (all songbirds combined, songbirds in decline, and vegetation) in some, but not all, instances. We found that the Partners in Flight focal species did a good job of representing other songbirds at four of the six national parks. For all parks combined, the focal species developed from park-specific bird surveys improved correlation, showing the most notable improvement at Crater Lake National Park, where the existing focal species did not correlate strongly with the other groups. In contrast to the close association with songbirds generally, the Partners in Flight focal species lists represented songbirds in decline at only two of the parks. It is likely that species in decline have different habitat needs or experience different threats than the focal species.
Partners in Flight focal species lists are based on breeding season habitat needs, but food and habitat outside of the breeding season are also critically important for birds. For example, understanding how seasonal habitat and food needs relate to songbird health and ability to produce young, and how climate interacts with those, may inform conservation of declining species. Adding focal species that can represent limitations or threats outside of the breeding season may expand the use of this approach in the context of widespread bird population declines. Further, continued long-term monitoring in the parks is critical to understanding both whether local bird populations show similar dynamics as the same species at regional and national scales, and if so, the reasons why.
Ashland, OR – A new study on songbirds in the Pacific Northwest, released on March 11th, empirically tests the use of focal species as indicators of ecosystem health.
Focal species are often monitored to understand overall ecosystem health and thereby inform and improve natural resource management. However, few studies have empirically tested how well this approach works. The new study, Established and empirically derived landbird focal species lists correlate with vegetation and avian metrics, published by scientists at Klamath Bird Observatory and the Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network of the National Park Service, tested the focal species approach against site-specific empirical data and found that a suite of bird focal species represented other birds and vegetation in some, but not all instances, and the application of focal species may be improved with more site-specific data.
In the Pacific Northwest, Partners in Flight (PIF) – a broad partnership aimed at conserving bird populations – has been using birds as focal species for nearly 20 years. The premise of the focal species approach is that a suite of songbird species that are closely tied to key habitat features will represent many other bird species and other elements of biodiversity. The study, published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PUBLICATION), used data from six national parks in southern Oregon and northern California to evaluate the focal species approach in the Pacific Northwest. Specifically, the study examined whether PIF focal species represented three broader ecosystem components of biodiversity: vegetation, other songbirds, and more specifically, songbirds in decline. The researchers then tested whether they could develop a focal species list from existing park-specific bird surveys that would do a better job at representing the broader suite of species and vegetation.
“If focal species do a good job at representing others aspects of biodiversity, then we can confidently apply them to decisions about managing natural areas. In this time of unprecedented human altered environments, ensuring that the best available science informs decision-making in an efficient manner is crucial,” explains Jaime Stephens, KBO’s Science Director and lead author of this paper. Jaime suggests that this study identifies not only how this approach can be useful to land managers, but importantly, also the limitations of the focal species approach.
The research team found that PIF focal species represented the broader suite of species and vegetation in some, but not all, instances. For example, Partners in Flight focal species did a good job of representing other songbirds at four of the six national parks included in the study. For all parks combined, the new focal species developed from the park-specific bird surveys were slightly better at representing other songbirds, with more improvement in some parks than others.
In contrast to the close association of focal species with the group of all songbirds combined, the PIF focal species represented songbirds in decline at only two of the parks. John Alexander, KBO Executive Director and a co-author of the study, highlights that “It is likely that the species in decline experience different threats than the focal species.” Alexander goes on to explain that these underrepresented declining species may face threats when they leave the parks during the migration – the focal species are chosen to help understand conditions in each park where the songbirds breed.
“I’ve worked through many uses of indicator and focal species approaches as a way for us to “see” and perhaps improve how a system works, and this is among the best approaches I know,” says PIF National Coordinator Bob Ford. He adds, “This approach provides a blueprint for how multi indicator species can be applied to advance conservation in other North American biomes.” He believes this is an important part of the PIF toolbox, adding value to the full lifecycle approaches that PIF applies to addressing conservation needs for priority and declining species.
This study, funded by the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program, takes advantage of the first decade of long-term bird monitoring in the six national parks of the Klamath Network. This monitoring program was designed to answer pressing questions for park managers and local conservation practitioners over the short-term, while monitoring long-term trends in bird populations over the long term. “Our long time partners at KBO provide valuable expertise that allows us to extend the value of our datasets and answer important questions that support natural resource stewardship in Klamath Network parks and beyond,” says Alice Chung-MacCoubrey, the NPS Klamath Network Inventory and Monitoring Program Manager. Continued long-term monitoring in the parks is critical to understanding local bird population dynamics in comparison to trends for the same species at regional and national scales.
About Klamath Bird Observatory: Klamath Bird Observatory advances bird and habitat conservation through science, education, and partnerships. We achieve bird conservation in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds of our region. We developed our award-winning conservation model in the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California. Emphasizing high caliber science and the role of birds as indicators of the health of the land, we specialize in cost-effective bird monitoring and research projects that improve natural resource management. Also, recognizing that conservation occurs across many fronts, we nurture a conservation ethic in our communities through our outreach and educational programs. Visit Klamath Bird Observatory at www.KlamathBird.org.
About Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network of the National Park Service: The Klamath Network tracks the ecological health of six national park units in southern Oregon and northern California. We inventory park natural resources and then regularly monitor the condition of a carefully selected subset, called “vital signs,” at Crater Lake NP, Lava Beds NM, Whiskeytown NRA, Lassen Volcanic NP, Redwood National and State Parks, and Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve. Our small staff of scientists partners with park scientists and other organizations to monitor nine vital signs: cave environments and communities, rocky intertidal zone communities, landbird communities, land cover and use within and surrounding parks, lake water quality and aquatic communities, stream water quality and aquatic communities, vegetation communities, invasive plants, and whitebark pine trees. Learn more about the Klamath Network and browse the published results of our science at https://www.nps.gov/im/klmn/index.htm.
Riparian (or streamside) habitats are critical for water quality and wildlife. These habitats filter pollutants from runoff, stabilize soils, provide shade to cool water temperatures, and much more. They are also known for their biodiversity, supporting the most diverse bird communities of any habitat type in arid and semi-arid regions such as ours. This is even more pronounced in urban landscapes.
Some of our most at-risk bird species require riparian habitats for breeding. Many species also need healthy riparian habitats during the fall and winter seasons, when they complete important activities like refueling during migration, replacing worn feathers (molting), or building reserves for the next breeding season.
Most of our western riparian habitats have been lost or degraded due to human impacts. However, restoration efforts are helping to return these areas back to more functioning natural conditions. For nearly two decades Klamath Bird Observatory, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, and Ashland School District have partnered on a riparian restoration project at the Willow Wind Community Learning Center along Bear Creek in Ashland, Oregon.
Lomakatsi works to improve riparian habitat in our region by planting a wide diversity of native vegetation, removing invasive plants, and supporting the natural regeneration of native plant communities. As part of the project at Willow Wind, over 3,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted by Lomakatsi’s restoration workers, school groups, and community volunteers. This work has increased the size and health of riparian areas that cool and clean our water, while also providing important bird habitat.
KBO has studied birds as indicators of habitat quality at Willow Wind over the past 18 years to monitor the effectiveness of this streamside habitat restoration. The abundance of several bird species that use riparian habitats during the winter has increased over time in areas where Lomakatsi implemented restoration efforts. The abundance of these same species changed less in areas where no restoration occurred. Before restoration actions took place, the fall bird community at Willow Wind was substantially different than that of nearby mature riparian habitat. In the restored areas, the fall bird community is now becoming more similar to the bird communities in mature riparian habitat along Bear Creek, as a result of the regrowth of native plants. Restoration actions are improving riparian habitat quality in areas where it had previously been degraded.
CLICK HERE to see the full brochure describing results of this project, or to download a printable pdf version.
Interested in birdwatching in some of Ashland’s riparian habitats? Try Lithia Park, Ashland Ponds, Emigrant Lake, or North Mountain Park. CLICK HERE to learn about these and other biding hot spots in and around Ashland.
KBO’s new Decision Support Tool highlights recent studies from KBO scientists and partners and demonstrates how we used science and birds as indicators to inform an adaptive management process in the Monument. The Monument was created to protect biodiversity, including migratory birds that need protection to prevent or reverse recent population declines. The Monument’s establishment, and its expansion in 2017, provided increased protection for critical habitats that many priority migratory bird species need, including oaks and grasslands that are among the most at-risk habitats in the western United States. When the Monument was established KBO completed a study that demonstrated measurable impacts of livestock on the Monument’s migratory birds. Results from this and other studies informed a process to eliminate livestock grazing from most of the Monument. KBO then did a follow up study that showed the measurable benefits of removing cattle from the Monument for migratory birds in oak woodlands.
Like KBO’s other Decision Support tools, this new four-page document is intended for managers, conservation resource professionals, and anyone else that is interested in how science can be used to make natural resource management decisions and measure the effectiveness of management actions that incorporate bird and habitat conservation objectives. Click here to find the DST on Avian Knowledge Northwest!
Forests in the Klamath Mountains Ecoregion, centered within the core of Klamath Bird Observatory’s focus region, are home to a diversity of wildlife, including birds. While old-growth forests receive a lot of attention, species such as Black-throated Grey Warblers, Rufous Hummingbirds, and Olive-sided Flycatchers all use habitat features of younger, early-successional forests, such as broad-leafed trees and shrubs, edges, or snags.
Because most of the early-successional forest in our region is privately managed, Klamath Bird Observatory recently worked with several partners to identify conservation opportunities for birds in southern Oregon’s private timber stands. With support from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, we worked alongside the American Bird Conservancy, the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI), and private forest management companies (Hancock Forest Management, Weyerhauser, and Lone Rock Forest Resources) to learn more about how privately managed timber stands can provide habitat for birds.
One of the main goals of the project was to identify opportunities for improving early-successional forest bird habitat on privately-managed timber forests, and asking what management practices might make those habitats of greater value to birds. As a first step, we produced a scoping document titledSustainable Forest Management: Opportunities for Bird Conservation on Private Timberlands in the Klamath Mountains, Oregon. It identifies focal bird species and habitat features that are important in the early successional forest of our region. This document compiled information from forest bird conservation plans and identified potential management action on private lands that would benefit many of those bird species.
The next step was to study how bird species use private forests in southern Oregon, and how different characteristics of timber stands contribute to habitat quality. To do so, we used species distribution models (SDMs), developed from 16 years of bird survey data from across the Klamath Mountains Ecoregion. Our unique SDMs use historical bird survey data and unclassified land cover imagery to develop a mathematical model that can be used to predict where species will occur on a landscape (See Using Birds to Predict Habitat Conditions for more information about our modeling approach). One of the advantages of using a model to predict bird habitat is that it allowed us to identify and rank the bird habitat potential for a large number of privately managed timber stands on the landscape. While KBO did field work on a small sample of those stands to check the models, our research using KBO’s larger region-wide dataset was ultimately able to provide information about bird habitat on over 2,100 privately managed forest stands in the region!
Finally, to learn more, we conducted two workshops with forestry professionals to understand how management can create high-quality early-successional habitat for birds. We visited some of the stands, talked about the results from our research, and discussed the management that may have contributed to how different timber stands ranked in our analysis. The workshop led to some successful conversations about practices that can be easily incorporated into existing forest management plans to create habitat for birds. Our workshops and research ultimately led to the development of two factsheets that highlight some of the key opportunities for bird conservation in private timber stands in our region. We’ve compiled the resources from this project as a manager’s guide on Avian Knowledge Northwest. Click here to read more and to download the factsheets!
We have some exciting updates to share with you all here at Klamath Bird Observatory. The Oregon Vesper Sparrow research we have been working so hard on is being turned into a short-film documentary! Local photographer and videographer Daniel Thiede has spent countless hours in the field with us this past year to help document our research efforts. We are thrilled to announce the Vesper Sparrow Film site is now live! Click on the link below to view the trailer for the film and to donate to the Oregon Vesper Sparrow research and documentary. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and need your support!
The Oregon Vesper Sparrow Pooecetes gramineus affinis can be found west of the Cascade Mountains. This subspecies has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act because of its small population size and declining trend. Breeding Bird Surveys indicate a statistically significant declining population trend of ~5% per year. The 2010 estimated range-wide population size was <3,000 birds, and more recent information suggests that number is closer to 2,000 birds.
Understanding the causes of population decline is critical to informing conservation action. A group of collaborators are contributing to a three year range-wide study to assess limiting factors. The study will assess whether birds are successfully producing young, surviving the winter, and dispersing to nearby habitat to identify where within the annual life cycle conservation actions are needed.
With the Oregon Vesper Sparrow currently under a 12-month review to determine whether listing under the Endangered Species Act is warranted, it is critical to understand subspecies variation for this species. Improved understanding of variation in morphology and vocalizations of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow subspecies, compared with other Vesper Sparrow subspecies, may have major conservation implications.
KBO, along with project partners in the Puget Lowlands in Washington (Center for Natural Lands Management), as well as the Willamette Valley (American Bird Conservancy), and a graduate student from Southern Oregon University, have been in the field collecting data to help us understand what makes this subspecies unique. Next year our efforts will continue, and our work on subspecies variation will be expanded to include the Great Basin Vesper Sparrow populations P.g. confinis in eastern Oregon.
Please continue to tune in to KBO and the Vesper Sparrow Film websites to receive updates on this important work.
Jefferson Public Radio recently broadcast a lively and informative discussion about the proposed solar panel farm installation at the City of Ashland’s Imperatrice Property—and the potential for the project to negatively impact the Grasshopper Sparrow population that nests there. Local author and ornithologist Pepper Trail, Ashland City Councilor Dennis Slattery, and Jefferson Exchange host Geoffrey Riley explored differing perspectives on the topic.
KBO, in partnership with Southern Oregon Land Conservancy and Rogue Valley Audubon Society, completed Grasshopper Sparrow surveys on the property in 2016 and those results help to inform the discussion. More information about Grasshopper Sparrows and the Imperatrice Property is available at the Rogue Valley Audubon Society website, including a link to KBO’s 2016 survey report.
KBO produces science that is relevant to pressing conservation issues. A recent report (see Frost 2018) identifies three objectives that are important for demonstrating the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion’s connectivity values and for identifying the locations of specific areas that most contribute to maintaining important ecological function across the area’s landscape. These objectives include identifying high-priority conservation areas, designing potential linkage zones between existing reserves or core habitat patches, and developing strategies for increasing resilience to climate change. Several data-rich products that have resulted from KBO’s conservation science collaborations relate to these three subjects of interest.
1. Identify high-priority conservation areas – A paper published in Conservation Biology, Improving Effectiveness of Systematic Conservation Planning with Density Data, presents a novel modeling approach that can be used to rank conservation areas. The approach involves modeling both bird distributions and densities (i.e., abundances). The paper shows high priority areas in the Pacific Northwest that are concentrated in the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion.
2. Design potential linkage zones between existing reserves or core habitat patches for focal species – A paper titled Comparing Ecoregional Classifications for Natural Areas Management in the Klamath Region, USAdescribes patterns of plant, amphibian, mammal, and bird distribution that are commonly used to identify ecological boundaries in the Klamath region. More specific to ongoing connectivity discussions, the analyses provide spatially explicit insights into areas of connectivity within the Klamath-Siskiyou Bioregion.
3. Develop strategies for increasing resilience to climate change – The Pacific Northwest Climate Change Avian Vulnerability decision support tool uses our data-rich modeling approach to present current and future distributions of birds and their habitats and can be used to show areas of turnover and refugia. The tool is freely available and all of the spatially explicit data outputs are downloadable.
The data-rich products described above were created to help identify priority conservation areas, identify important connectivity linkage zones, and develop climate-smart conservation strategies. To insure that our science results in meaningful conservation outcomes KBO staff engage in various conservation forums to demonstrate the relevance of our work to scientists and managers who can use our science to inform and improve their efforts to conserve important ecosystems.