With salmon extremely scarce off the West Coast, PRBO scientist Jennifer Roth published a relevant "op ed" essay in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (also found at www.prbo.org). She calls attention to the value of breeding seabird studies for understanding changes in the marine environment—and their potential for informing fisheries management.
|Part way through its breeding cycle, an Adélie Penguin sheltering its young turns its back to the weather. Photo by Grant Ballard/PRBO.|
Adélie Penguin researchers this past season encountered unusually heavy winds and snowfall—a challenge for field work at the Ross Island breeding colonies. The penguins, though, had above-average productivity. Windier and snowier conditions (a predicted consequence of global warming in this Antarctic area) lead also to more extensive pack ice in these penguins' foraging area—at least for now. Less krill in their diet, and reduced numbers of killer whales, may reflect the recent expansion of a commercial fishery in the area; we provided these observations to fishery managers for Antarctic waters. The penguin project was featured on the March 23, 2008 edition of "Wild Kingdom" (Animal Planet).
Seabirds have begun breeding on the Farallon Islands in the presence of cold ocean water. Upwelling of cold water often results in high food availability. Recent oceanographic cruises led by PRBO's Jaime Jahncke in collaboration with Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary found abundant krill (shrimp-like plankton, important in the marine food web) in waters near the islands. By mid-April, PRBO biologists on Southeast Farallon saw Cassin's Auklets incubating eggs, a good sign for a species whose success in the past few years was low. Common Murres, present in their colonies in large numbers during March, were on the verge of breeding. Outcomes for seabirds are uncertain in this variable ecosystem, but early indications for the 2008 breeding season are encouraging.
The PRBO Conservation Achievement Award was given to staff scientists Dave Shuford and Tom Gardali at this year's annual meeting. This acknowledged their role in producing the new California Bird Species of Special Concern; see page 8 of this Observer.
"Tundra to Tropics" was the title of the Fourth International Conference of Partners In Flight, a coalition devoted to preserving native bird populations throughout the Americas. PRBO (the leader of California PIF) sent a 12-person delegation to this year's meeting in Texas, where more than 700 participants focused on "Connecting Birds, Habitats and People." PRBO presentations ranged from tailoring conservation plans to the local level to the Avian Knowledge Network, a hemisphere-wide partnership to share and use a wealth of bird data.
A plan for marine protected areas off the north-central coast of California underwent final review in April by a blue ribbon task force, appointed by the governor. This culminated ten months of negotiation among conservationists, fishermen, scientists, and others. PRBO contributed extensive expertise on the ecological needs of marine life at the Farallon Islands. The California Fish and Game Commission now is considering the panel's recommendations and, over the next year, will select a preferred alternative and conduct environmental review. To learn more about the statewide plan to provide long-term protection for high-quality habitats located within California's ocean jurisdiction—and support the recovery of fish and wildlife species at risk—visit www.dfg.ca.gov/mlpa.
|A newly banded Bar-tail Godwit is one of several dozen marked individuals that will help scientists discover the migration route and survival needs of a far-traveling shorebird species. Photo © Jan van de Kam.|
Tracking shorebird migration, Nils Warnock and international colleagues followed Bar-tailed Godwits to New Zealand and Australia this past winter. There, they placed two dozen lightweight, high-tech tags on these long-distance migrants. By April, a number of birds were sending signals as they headed toward breeding grounds in Russia and Alaska. "Our results are highlighting the extreme importance of the Yellow Sea area for Bar-tailed Godwits from both new Zealand and Australia," says Nils. Pin-pointing crucial stop-over sites will be key to protecting this species' world population. See a related story about Long-Billed Curlews on page 10 of this Observer. To view the latest results on an Earth map, go to www.prbo.org, and click on "Track Migrating Shorebirds."
"Wildlife Responses to Restoration"—a symposium at The Wildlife Society western section meetings in Redding, California, in February 2008—was convened by PRBO Senior Scientist Chrissy Howell. Staff biologists gave presentations on songbird responses to riparian restoration, Song Sparrows in tidal marshlands, and protection for beach-nesting Least Terns. Last October, PRBO hosted the 2007 annual meeting of Western Bird Banding Association, with events at our Petaluma headquarters, Palomarin Field Station, and in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Recent PRBO scientific publications include: the influence of seasonal factors on the growth of Cassin's Auklet chicks; riparian bird response to vegetation and habitat features in the Central Valley; and the need for interdisciplinary research to understand the effects that climate change will have on bird populations.
PRBO's schools program received funding to develop and deliver our Seabird Education Awareness Program for fourth- and fifth-grade students in San Francisco. Education specialist Lishka Arata, together with Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association staff, will lead student-centered investigations of local seabird diet, seabird breeding colony ecology, and seabird conservation. Along with classroom activities, students will have a field trip to Alcatraz Island to learn about PRBO's research on the local nesting seabirds!