In a race for Cheetos, magpies win, but crows steal
Aug12

In a race for Cheetos, magpies win, but crows steal

Black-billed magpies and American crows, both members of the clever corvid family of birds, have adapted comfortably to life in urban and suburban communities. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the two species often nest nearby each other in backyards and parks. Nesting near their much larger crow cousins affords magpies a margin of extra safety from a common enemy—ravens, an even larger corvid species. Magpie explores a Cheeto puzzle from Ecological Society of America on Vimeo.   “Ravens are notorious nest raiders,” said Rhea Esposito, an educational program leader at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. During her doctoral work at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Esposito studied how birds associate during nesting season. Smaller birds sometimes nest near larger species to benefit from their more aggressive defense against predators. Research has tended to focus on the protection side of the relationship. But what about competition? Do magpies pay a food penalty for nesting near larger rivals? Or do the smaller birds compensate with bold pursuit of new food sources? To find out which of the two corvids were more intrepid snack scouts, Esposito presented breeding pairs with a set of Cheetos challenges. She presented her results on Thursday, 11 August 2016 at the 101st Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, during a session on animal Behavior. “Cheetos are not the healthiest food, but the birds like them a lot,” said Esposito. “And because they are bright orange, it was really easy to observe when the birds completed the task.” Esposito set out Cheetos near nests and settled in to watch the birds fly down to investigate. Magpies moved on the unfamiliar food an average of 20 seconds faster that crows, which eyed the orange treats with more suspicion, pausing longer before picking them up. Once having identified Cheetos as food, however, crows were more apt to steal. “Because it’s the nesting season, they are often close enough to see neighboring Cheetos piles. So crows would learn that there is food at the nearby magpie nest, as well as their own nest. Crows steal more often than magpies by a factor of three,” said Esposito. Esposito raised the level of difficulty through several tests, ultimately hiding the Cheetos inside a hollow log. To extract the cheesy reward, the birds had to pull on a string. “It was a really fun experiment…just a blast to watch,” said Esposito. Magpies were bolder puzzle solvers as well, earning their Cheetos about a minute faster than crows, on average. “These puzzles were very simple for corvid abilities. They have solved much harder problems in the lab. But this...

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Population Ecology of Some Warblers of Northeastern Coniferous Forests #ESA100 notable papers
Feb02

Population Ecology of Some Warblers of Northeastern Coniferous Forests #ESA100 notable papers

Sixty years ago Robert MacArthur ventured into spruce woods in Maine and Vermont to study five species of warblers

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Backyards prove surprising havens for native birds #ESA100
Aug06

Backyards prove surprising havens for native birds #ESA100

Tucked away from judging eyes, backyards are unexpected treasure troves of resources for urban birds. ESA Centennial Annual Meeting, August 9-14, 2015 in Baltimore, Md. Ecological Science at the Frontier Program Press Releases Media Registration Many of us lavish attention on our front yards, spending precious weekend hours planting, mowing, and manicuring the plants around our homes to look nice for neighbors and strangers passing by. But from the point of view of our feathered friends, our shaggy backyards are far more attractive. So found ecologist Amy Belaire when she surveyed human and avian residents in 25 Cook County neighborhoods in suburban Chicago. She will present her research during the 100th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America on August 9–14, during a session on Urban Ecosystems that also includes Caroline Dingle’s observations on how birds modulate their songs to be heard over the noise of daily life in Hong Kong, and Kara Belinsky’s exploration of how many trees it takes to make a forest (from a bird’s point of view) in suburban New York. Belaire, a natural resources manager and education and research coordinator at St. Edward’s University’s Wild Basin Creative Research Center in Austin, Tex., and her colleagues Lynne Westphal (USDA Forest Service) and Emily Minor (University of Illinois Chicago) asked people about their perceptions and awareness of birds in their neighborhoods and how they felt about having birds around their homes. They also asked about the yard design and management choices that residents make in both front and back yards. The researchers also looked at socioeconomic factors and used statistical analysis to tease out the relative importance on yard management choices of neighbors, factors like income, and perceptions of local birds. “The cool thing about this is how much it reveals about backyards,” said Belaire. “Our most interesting take-away is that backyards tend to be treasure troves of ecological resources. It’s where you find a lot of factors helpful to native birds—more vegetation complexity, more plants bearing fruits and berries—and more design with the intention of attracting birds.” When planting and cultivating their front yards, people seemed most motivated by what their neighbors were doing. But in managing backyards, perceptions of birds became important to residents. This suggests that local birds may motivate stewardship. People enjoyment of and appreciation for birds appears to translate into on-the-ground effects, at least in backyards. Belaire found a surprising 36 bird species living in or passing through the Chicago neighborhoods. In landscapes increasingly sublimated to human industry, parks and yards within cities are potentially essential habitat for local birds as well as oases for birds stopping by on long...

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ESA Policy News July 29: White House teams with businesses to advance climate pledge, agriculture spending bills advance, ESA responds to Senate COMPETES comment request
Jul29

ESA Policy News July 29: White House teams with businesses to advance climate pledge, agriculture spending bills advance, ESA responds to Senate COMPETES comment request

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  WHITE HOUSE: COMPANIES UNITE WITH PRESIDENT OBAMA ON CLIMATE PLEDGE Thirteen of the largest companies in the United States are joining the Obama administration in the American Business Act on Climate Pledge: Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart. The companies making pledges represent more than $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014 and a combined market capitalization of at least $2.5 trillion. In signing the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” the businesses 1) voice their support for a strong outcome in the Paris climate negotiations 2) pledge to reduce their carbon emissions and take other actions that improve sustainability and address climate change 3) set an example that will pave the way for a second round of pledges from additional companies this fall. Click here for additional information. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE MOVE FY 2016 AGRICULTURE SPENDING BILLS Over the past several weeks, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their respective Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bills for FY 2016. The bills provide funding for most US Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. Overall FY 2016 funding in both bills is lower than the enacted FY 2015 spending level to comply with sequestration funding levels. However, the Senate bill does increase funding for most agricultural research programs. Though the White House has yet to issue a veto threat of either bill, it did submit a letter of concern on the House bill. Below are summaries of funding for specific USDA entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2015 enacted funding: Agricultural Research Service House: $1.12 billion; $10.17 million less than FY 2015. Senate: $1.14 billion; a $4.2 million increase over FY 2015. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service House: $870.95 million; $370,000 less than FY 2015. Senate: $876.47 million; a $5.15 million increase over FY 2015. Natural Resources Conservation Service House: $832.93 million; $13.5 million less than FY 2015. Senate: $855.21 million; an $8.78 million increase over FY 2015. Agriculture and Food Research Initiative House: $335 million; a $10 million increase over FY 2015. Senate: $325 million; level with FY 2015. Click here to view the White House letter of the House Agriculture FY 2016 spending bill. INTERIOR: OBAMA ADMINISTRATION PERMITS OIL DRILLING IN ARCTIC On July 22, the Obama administration granted Shell conditional approval to conduct limited exploratory drilling activities in the Chukchi Sea offshore Alaska in Arctic waters. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)...

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New diseases travel on the wings of birds in a rapidly changing north
Dec02

New diseases travel on the wings of birds in a rapidly changing north

When wild birds are a big part of your diet, opening a freshly shot bird to find worms squirming around under the skin is a disconcerting sight. That was exactly what Victoria Kotongan saw in October, 2012, when she set to cleaning two of four spruce grouse (Falcipennis canadensis) she had taken near her home in Unalakleet, on the northwest coast of Alaska. The next day, she shot four grouse and all four harbored the long, white worms. In two birds, the worms appeared to be emerging from the meat. Kotongan, worried about the health of the grouse and the potential risk to her community, reported the parasites to the Local Environmental Observer Network, which arranged to have the frozen bird carcasses sent to a lab for testing. Lab results identified the worms as the nematode Splendidofilaria pectoralis, a thinly described parasite previously observed in blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus pallidus) in interior British Columbia, Canada. The nematode had not been seen before so far north and west. Though S. pectoralis is unlikely to be dangerous to people, other emerging diseases in northern regions are not so innocuous. Animals are changing their seasonal movements and feeding patterns to cope with the changing climate, bringing into close contact species that rarely met in the past. Nowhere is this more apparent than the polar latitudes, where warming has been fastest and most dramatic. Red foxes are spreading north into arctic fox territory. Hunger is driving polar bears ashore as sea ice shrinks. Many arctic birds undertake long migratory journeys and have the mobility to fly far beyond their historical ranges, or extend their stay in attractive feeding or nesting sites. With close contact comes a risk of infection with the exotic parasites and microorganisms carried by new neighbors, and so disease is finding new territory as well. Clement conditions extend the lifecycles of disease carrying insects, and disease-causing organisms. Migratory birds can take infectious agents for rides over great distances. In November 2013, Alaska Native residents of St. Lawrence Island, in the Bering Sea, alerted wildlife managers to the deaths of hundreds of crested auklets, thick-billed murres, northern fulmars and other seabirds, caused by an outbreak of highly contagious avian cholera (Pasteurella multocida). “It’s the first time avian cholera has shown up in Alaska,” said Caroline Van Hemert, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Anchorage, Alaska. “St. Lawrence Island is usually iced in by November, but last year we had a warm fall and winter in Alaska. We don’t know for sure that open water, climate, and high-densities of birds contributed to the outbreak, but it coincided with unusual...

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Volunteer ‘eyes on the skies’ track peregrine falcon recovery in California
Sep11

Volunteer ‘eyes on the skies’ track peregrine falcon recovery in California

Datasets from long-running volunteer survey programs, calibrated with data from sporadic intensive monitoring efforts, have allowed ecologists to track the recovery of peregrine falcons in California and evaluate the effectiveness of a predictive model popular in the management of threatened species. In recovery from the deadly legacy of DDT, American peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus anatum) faced new uncertainty in 1992, when biologists proposed to stop rearing young birds in captivity and placing them in wild nests. Tim Wootton and Doug Bell published models that year in Ecological Applications, projecting population trends for the falcon in California, with and without direct human intervention in the falcons’ reproductive lives. They concluded that the birds would continue to recover without captive rearing, though the population growth rate might slow. Fledgling introductions had bolstered wild falcon numbers and genetic diversity, but survival would ultimately depend on cleaning up lingering DDT contamination to create healthy conditions for wild birds, they argued. This month, they return to their 1992 predictions to see how the American peregrine falcons have fared over the last two decades, with a new report featured on the cover of the September 2014 issue of Ecological Applications. Though falcon numbers are lower than hoped for, data from volunteer survey programs, calibrated with more intensive surveys by wildlife biologists, confirmed a recovery trajectory well within the trends Wootton and Bell predicted. “The challenge was to come up with data,” said Wootton. “Once a species falls off the endangered species list, there is not a lot of funding to track how management, or lack of management, is doing,” he said. “There was limited data that was appropriate being collected on the falcon, so we turned to a couple of well-known bird censuses that cover wide geographic areas.” The follow-on study provided insights in the use of volunteer-generated data as well as an important test of population viability analysis, a tool increasingly used to evaluate alternative management plans and identify conservation priorities for endangered species, including sea turtles, grizzlies, and desert tortoises. It supported the importance of considering the health and behavior of geographic groups of a threatened species within a larger population. The 1992 paper identified falcon population “sinks” in parts of Southern California where chemical contamination lingered and the birds could not maintain numbers without migrants from healthier areas. Unfortunately, the falcon’s recovery has continued to lag in these areas. Once widespread across North America, the world’s fastest bird had disappeared from the east by mid-century and was near extinction on the continent by 1975, when a survey found only 159 breeding pairs of American peregrine falcons. Chicks often did not survive to...

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These are not your urban lawn flamingos!
Jun10

These are not your urban lawn flamingos!

Madhusudan Katti won this year’s ESA Science Café Prize with his lyric contemplation of the wildlife living alongside us in urban spaces, and the necessary participation of cities in the future of biodiversity on planet earth. Katti is a professor at California State University Fresno and records occasional radio essays for Valley Public Radio. He tweets prolifically as @leafwarbler and blogs at Reconciliation Ecology. Hear Katti speak along with co-winner Simon Brandl at the Davis Science Café, 5:30 pm Wednesday, August 13, at DeVere’s Pub during ESA’s 2014 Annual Meeting in Sacramento, CA. UC Davis Professor of Chemistry Jared Shaw went on Capital Public Radio in Sacramento this morning to talk about his Davis Science Café series. Special thanks to Prof. Shaw for making this special Annual Meeting event possible.   Mention wildlife to a city dweller and images of remote nature will probably come to mind – not an empty lot around the corner. Wildlife, after all, should occur in wild places. But cities can support many species and this has implications for conservation efforts. On a crowded planet, protecting species in their natural habitat is proving increasingly difficult. By 2030, cities are expected to occupy three times as much land as they did in 2010. Remaining natural habitats are often fragments caught in this global web of cities connected by transportation networks. With the number of species going extinct on the rise, we must consider the potential of urban environments to support wildlife. I am part of a new global network of urban ecologists and naturalists—UrBioNet—compiling biodiversity data to assess how many species manage to survive in cities worldwide. Our recent analysis of plant and bird diversity found that cities have lost an average of one-third of the species native to their region. While this is worrying, it is worth noting that two-thirds of the native species continue to occur in cities that were never designed to support wildlife. In fact at least 20% of the world’s known bird species now occur in urban areas, as do at least 5% of the known plant species. With more conscious green landscape designs, imagine how many more of the native wildlife we might accommodate in our cities? Wildlife conservation can indeed start at home on our urban...

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ESA Policy News: December 9
Dec09

ESA Policy News: December 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. WHITE HOUSE: ENVIRONMENTAL COUNCIL CHAIR TO STEP DOWN On Dec. 3, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairwoman Nancy Sutley announced she will resign from her post in February. Sutley has held the position since Jan. 22, 2009, when the Senate confirmed her by unanimous consent. As CEQ chair, Sutley played a pivotal role in advancing the administration’s Climate Action Plan and National Ocean Policy. Sutley was one of the last environmental advisers remaining from President Obama’s first term. The top spots at the Departments of Energy, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency have all garnered new faces this year. Prior to joining CEQ, she served as deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles. She was an energy adviser to former California Gov. Gray Davis and served as deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations at the California EPA from 1999-2003. During the Clinton administration, she served as senior policy advisor to the EPA regional administrator in San Francisco. Sutley grew up in Queens, NY and is an alumna of Harvard and Cornell Universities. BUDGET: ORGANIZATIONS CALL FOR AN END TO SEQUESTER CUTS On Dec. 4, the Ecological Society of America joined several hundred national organizations from health, education, environmental, research and other communities in sending a letter to Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to forgo continued cuts to discretionary spending programs. The 470 signature letter, timed to coincide with the budget conference talks this month, urges lawmakers to replace the sequester cuts with a bipartisan balanced approach to deficit reduction that relieves non-defense discretionary spending (NDD) programs. “Despite the vast array of important services provided through NDD programs—from education and job training, to housing and science, to National Parks and veterans services, to public health, safety and security—these programs have been cut dramatically and disproportionately in recent years as lawmakers work to reduce the deficit, even though experts agree these programs don’t contribute to our nation’s mid- and longer-term debt problem,” the letter notes. The letter also references the recent Faces of Austerity report from NDD United, which spearheaded the letter. The comprehensive report spotlights the impact discretionary spending cuts implemented through the 2013 sequestration have had on education, scientific discovery, infrastructure investment and natural resource conservation, among other areas. View the Faces of Austerity report here. View the NDD programs letter here. APPROPRIATIONS: THREE NEW REPUBLICANS JOIN SPENDING COMMITTEE Reps. Mark Amodei (R-NV), Martha Roby (R-AL) and Chris Stewart (R-UT) were approved by the House Steering Committee this past week to fill Republican vacancies on the House Appropriations Committee that were...

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