Avian Science Center, accomplishments in 2009
Description of the overall “need” that the Avian Science Center was created to address:
People who make decisions that affect our lives often fail to give adequate weight to the ecological implications of their decisions. This failure emerges partly from a lack of awareness of relevant information and partly from a misunderstanding of how the scientific process works. We fully realize that the lack of political will to use science- and conservation-based information is, perhaps, the most important barrier of all, but better communication about the nature and implications of scientific results is a necessary step toward changing that political will.
Our stated mission is, therefore, to use western birds as a tool “to promote ecological awareness and informed decision making through the collection, synthesis, and dissemination of science-based information.” We focus on avian science because of the utility of birds as environmental indicators, because of their attractiveness as tools for communication, and because of the wealth of relevant research occurring at this University and beyond.
History of activities conducted to achieve our stated mission:
Design and implementation of a bird monitoring program
Need—This component of what we do is important because “there is often a lack of appropriate monitoring and improved management expertise in…management agencies” (Robertson 2000). And “there is a pressing need for further collaborations between ecologists and corporations, governmental agencies, and advocacy groups, at local and international levels” (Palmer et al. 2005). We believe strongly that collaboration between agencies and academic institutions is the most effective way to meet an agency need to conduct sound and rigorous biological surveys while at the same time meeting an academic need to have theory grounded in practical application and reality.
- We are in our 20th year of a partnership with private organizations and public agencies where we coordinate a regional bird monitoring effort that was developed to better understand and predict the distribution of birds in relation to every vegetation type and condition. This adaptive monitoring program also allows us to track changes in bird populations over time and to conduct species-specific studies. The resulting geo-referenced database holds bird and vegetation information from northern Idaho and Montana, and it stands as one of the strongest databases of its kind in the world.
- Annually, we continue to coordinate 20-30 field technicians who participate in various field-based projects involving landbird monitoring, fire ecology, river restoration, and science education. This annual coordination involves (a) planning and designing statistically rigorous data collection; (b) hiring technically and physically competent field technicians; (c) revising field manuals and data forms, and developing new or enhancing existing teaching/training materials, (d) training field technicians, (e) supervising field crew during the field season; (f) supervising the entry, cleaning, and transfer of field data for analysis.
Data analysis and synthesis
Need—The importance of this component of what we do is partially captured by Robertson (2000) who notes that “Several cooperative research ventures are now employing people as knowledge brokers to serve at the interface between researchers and managers.” Basically, somebody has to conduct the analyses necessary to make sense of information that is collected, or data will merely collect dust on a shelf (Sutherland et al. 2004). Even more recently, Carpenter et al. (2009) reiterated that there is a “…pressing need for comprehensive new programs to energize synthesis” in ecology.
- We have completed a wide range of analyses that have resulted in the output products listed below under “information dissemination.” Most recently, we received a sizable USDA grant to develop state-of-the-art models to predict the probability of occurrence of landbirds across all land types and conditions in Montana and north Idaho.
Need—Although it may be true that “...better environmental decisions result when choices are informed by dialog among scientists, policy makers, decision makers, and the public” (Palmer et al. 2005), there is a sense among ecologists, “…that a good deal of the science needed for policymaking decisions has been done, but people are not aware of it” (Lundmark 2004). Thus, there is a recognized need to get science information into a more usable form (Pullin et al. 2004), and a need for “…people who can play the role of translator…to interface between managers, educators, and scientists” (Lundmark 2004). Science for the 21st century needs to be a science where “…the players are actively engaged with the public and policy makers” (Palmer et al. 2005).
(1) University courses (taught in entirety)
- Spring 2010—We are recruiting 12 students for an undergraduate field training course involving bird ID, point count methods, and other avian field techniques.
- Spring 2009—Richard Hutto taught Ornithology
(2) Lectures and presentations in courses, seminars, professional meetings and workshops
- 9 February 2009—J. Young attended the Montana Bird Conservation Partnership workshop in Kalispell, MT.
- 25 February 2009 –R. Hutto presented a talk entitled “Surviving severe fires” as an evening lecture to the public at the Montana Natural History Center, Missoula, MT.
- 4 March 2009—R. Hutto presented a talk entitled “Conducting bird surveys autonomously: Are human field technicians obsolete?” at the OBE seminar series, University of Montana.
- 16 April 2009—R. Hutto gave a presentation on warblers for the advanced birding workshop held by Five Valleys Audubon.
- 15 September 2009—R. Hutto gave a talk on birds and fire in Montana Wildlife (Biology 201) at the University of Montana.
(3) Involvement in Montana science teacher training workshops and K-12 field courses
- 11 May 2009—R. Hutto provided lecture and led fire ecology field trip for Hellgate High School Biology students.
(4) Participation in direct, in-the-field communication with land managers, line officers, politicians, the press, and the public-at-large
- 30 May 2009—R. Hutto led a beginning birdwatching class with Sue Reel at the Kim Williams Trail, Missoula, MT.
- 29 June 2009—R. Hutto led natural history outing with Sue Reel for Carelton College Board of Trustees, Ovando, MT.
(5) Development of a web-based clearinghouse for science-based information as it relates to important public issues
Completely re-designed our web page (http://avianscience.dbs.umt.edu/).
(6) Sponsorship of, or participation in, workshops or symposia
- 12-14 October 2009—Hutto and Young helped organize a national workshop on the use of web-based Decision Support Tools, Reno, NV.
(7) Publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals
- Horváth, G., G. Kriska, P. Malik, and B. Robertson. 2009. Polarized light pollution: a new kind of ecological photopollution. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 7:317-325.
- Robertson, B.A. 2009. Nest site selection in a postfire landscape: Do parents make tradeoffs between microclimate and predation risk? Auk 126: 500-510. [pdf]
- Fletcher, R. J., Jr., J. S. Young, R. L. Hutto, A. Noson, and C. T. Rota. 2009. Insights from ecological theory on temporal dynamics and species distribution modeling. A. Drew, F. Huettmann, and Y. Wiersma, Editors, Predictive Modeling in Landscape Ecology. Springer.
- Robertson, B. A. 2009. The influence of spatio-temporal variation in food availability and nest-predation risk on clutch-size decisions. Condor 111:523-533.
- Fletcher, R. J., Jr. 2009. Does attraction to conspecifics explain the patch-size effect? An experimental test. Oikos 118:1139-1147. [pdf]
- Rota, C. T., R. J. Fletcher, Jr., R. Dorazio, and M. G. Betts. 2009. Occupancy estimation and the closure assumption. Journal of Applied Ecology, in press.
- Hutto, R. L., and R. J. Stutzman. 2009. Humans vs. Autonomous Recording Units: a comparison of point-count results. Journal of Field Ornithology, 80(4):387–398. [pdf]
- Flesch, A. D., C. W. Epps, J. W. Cain, M. Clark, P. R. Krausman, and J. R. Morgart. 2009. Potential effects of the United States-Mexico border fence on wildlife. Conservation Biology. [pdf]
- Villaseñor-Gómez, J. F., O. Hinojosa-Huerta, E. Gómez-Limón, D. Krueper, and A. D. Flesch. 2009. Avifauna of Sonora. In van Devender, T. R. and F. Molina-Freaner (editors), The Biological Diversity of Sonora Mexico. CONABIO and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México City, México. [pdf]
(8) Op-eds and letters concerning science results and public policy
(9) Other publications and interpretive material
- May 2009— Jeremy Roberts released “Disturbance,” an award-winning short film for which Hutto contributed voice track (see Conservation Media Films to view "Disturbance").
Accomplishments related to infrastructure and financial stability
- 2006-2010—$496,198 from USDA-CSREES for “Novel use of a landbird database to inform management” (with Rob Fletcher, Co-PI).
- 2007-2009—$10,000 from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 2007 to conduct a project on “Flammulated Owls and citizen science monitoring.”
- 2007-2009—$25,000 from Big Hole Watershed Committee, USFWS, and MTFWP for the use of birds to assess restoration success in the Big Hole Valley, MT.
- 2008-2012—$100,000 from Bureau of Land Management for “Upper Missouri Bird Inventory in Montana”
- 2008-2010—$205,084 from USDA Forest Service (#03-CR-11015600-007) for agreement to conduct landbird monitoring and develop educational opportunities at the University of Montana.
- 2008-2009—$71,000 from PPL-Montana for “evaluating the restoration success on O’Dell Creek of the Madison River.”
- 2008-2009—$27,000 from The Nature Conservancy for the Koeye Watershed Monitoring Project.
- 2008-2010—$20,000 from the Big Hole Watershed Committee and the USFWS Arctic Grayling Recovery Program for “Upper Big Hole River avian monitoring: evaluating habitat restoration.”
- 2008-2013—$48,900 from National Park Service-CESU for investigating the “Distribution and status of breeding birds in the sky islands of northern Sonora.”
- 2009-2010—$31,000 from PPL-Montana for “evaluating the presence and persistence of birds along previously surveyed portions of the Missouri River corridor.”
- 2009-2010—$23,985 from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for “Clark Fork Diversity Monitoring Porject.”
- 2009-2010—$27,492 from Montana DOJ-NRDP for “Bird’s-eye view of the Clark Fork River Basin.”
Press releases about aspects of our work
- 2 April 2009—LeQuire, E. “Listening to the message of the Black-backed Woodpecker, a hot fire specialist” Fire Science Brief 39:1-6. http://www.firescience.gov/projects/04-2-1-106/supdocs/04-2-1-106_FSBrief39-Final-Binder.pdf
- July 2009—Hess, P. “Birds of northern Sonora” Birding, July 2009:31-32 http://www.aba.org/birding/v41n4p30.pdf.
- July 2009—Marshall, J. “U.S.-Mexico border fence may snag wildlife” http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/07/08/border-fence-wildlife.html.
- July 2009—Littlefield, A. “U.S.-Mexico border fence isolates wildlife” http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2009/07/usmexico-border-disrupts-wildlife.html.
- September 2009—The Wildlife Professional. “Science in short – border fence impacts.”
In closing, scientists have too frequently “...been reluctant to come outside the Ivory Tower to explain what they do and why it is important.” “…For us to sit quietly while the uninformed determine governmental policy on major environmental issues is not an acceptable return on the public investment in our science” (Schlesinger 2005). Nonetheless, to be truly successful in this venture, “The academic culture will have to change at all levels, particularly in the reward structure for faculty at colleges and universities. There is a gap between what scientists must do to receive recognition and promotion from their departments and what they need to do to make a difference in the world outside the ivory tower.” In order to succeed we believe we need to be engaged with and supported by other professionals within the University of Montana and beyond.
Carpenter, S. R., E. V. Armbrust, P. W. Arzberger, F. Stuart Chapin, J. J. Elser, E. J. Hackett, A. R. Ives, P. M. Kareiva, M. A. Leibold, P. Lundberg, M. Mangel, N. Merchant, W. W. Murdoch, M. A. Palmer, D. P. C. Peters, S. T. A. Pickett, K. K. Smith, D. H. Wall, and A. S. Zimmerman. 2009. Accelerate synthesis in ecology and environmental sciences. BioScience 59:699-701.
Lundmark, C. 2004. ESA's New Vision for Ecology. BioScience 54:712.
Palmer, M. A., E. S. Bernhardt, E. A. Chornesky, S. L. Collins, A. P. Dobson, C. S. Duke, B. D. Gold, R. B. Jacobson, S. E. Kingsland, R. H. Kranz, M. J. Mappin, M. L. Martinez, F. Micheli, J. L. Morse, M. L. Pace, M. Pascual, S. S. Palumbi, O. J. Reichman, A. R. Townsend, and M. G. Turner. 2005. Ecological science and sustainability for the 21st century. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3:4-11.
Pullin, A. S., T. M. Knight, D. A. Stone, and K. Charman. 2004. Do conservation managers use scientific evidence to support their decision-making? Biological Conservation 119:245-252.
Robertson, A. I. 2000. Communicating about research. We still have a long way to go. Ecological Management and Restoration 1:161-162.
Schlesinger, W. H. 2005. When science informed policy. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 3:519.
Sutherland, W. J., A. S. Pullin, P. M. Dolman, and T. M. Knight. 2004. The need for evidence-based conservation. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 19:305-308.