PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 155, Winter 2009: Scientific Models for Conservation


Connectivity—In the Environment and in PRBO's Work

Bringing Together Scientists and Habitat Managers

Ellie M. Cohen

Overview of Scientific Modeling
CEO's Column: Connectivity
Spatial Modeling
A Glossary of Modeling Terms
Temporal Modeling
Partners Using PRBO Models
Children Create Habitat
Focus: Winter Birding Blues
Remembering Dorothy Hunt
Farallon Patrol Braves the Waves

It is January 13th, well into winter, and we are standing at the northern edge of the San Francisco Bay-Estuary. The sun's rays are angled low at this time of year, but the temperature reaches a balmy 68 degrees and the Samuel's Song Sparrows (a subspecies unique to tidal marsh in this area) are already starting to sing. A truly magnificent Bay Area winter day!
PRBO's team on a visit to San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge: (L to R) Julian Wood, Ellie M. Cohen, Dennis Jongsomjit, John Wiens, and Mark Herzog. Photo by Giselle Block.

We—Chief Conservation Science Officer Dr. John Wiens, Informatics Co-Director Dr. Mark Herzog, Modeler Dennis Jongsomjit, SF Bay Program Manager Julian Wood and I—are here today visiting with Giselle Block, the enthusiastic and energetic wildlife biologist for the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Our goal: pull some of PRBO's talented analytical thinkers from their desks and into the field to gain some first-hand understanding of the challenges facing a wetlands refuge in the context of accelerating climate change.

Back in October, I attended a meeting of the San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, a voluntary public-private partnership to restore wetlands. During a discussion about the Joint Venture's draft white paper on the impacts of global warming on wetland restoration (see, San Pablo Bay NWR Manager Christy Smith explained that, from her vantage point, climate change is not some far-off threat. She told us it is an immediate reality as levees are regularly overtopped by warming seas. She made a plea for assistance in establishing natural-resource management priorities, as rapid changes engulf her turf, literally as well as figuratively.
San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Today, as we meet adjacent to several thousand acres of farmed baylands that are slated for restoration to wetlands, Giselle details these concerns. She sug-gests that the lack of tools to predict both short- and long-term effects of sea-level rise impairs her ability to protect wildlife and plants on the refuge. Refuge goals include protecting endangered species, understanding how migratory bird popu-lations are faring, and ensuring as much healthy tidal marsh as possible. These goals are slipping away as the tides rise and the earth warms.

It's no surprise that Giselle wants to know how best to assess the impacts of climate change and, especially, how conservation actions might be prioritized in the face of increasing uncertainty. This is a common request from partners across California's landscapes. It's a tall order but one that we at PRBO are working hard to address.

As this Observer highlights, we are engaged in a series of innovative modeling projects that address environmental change to help reduce negative impacts on birds and ecosystems. One priority is to predict the consequences of sea-level rise and increased salinity on wetland-dependent bird species and their habitats on California's central coast.
Ellie M. Cohen. PRBO photo.

A challenge for us is to ensure that PRBO's statistical ecologists and modelers communicate directly with our on-the-ground (or at-sea, as it may be!) partners, to ensure that our "products" are what the "users" need and will actually use. Our scientists also play an important role in educating the users about the latest science and how we might help them achieve, evaluate, and even revise their goals, to maximize conservation success for every dollar invested.

The conversation with Giselle continues as we drive to the refuge's Tolay Creek/Tubbs Island restoration site, for lunch and a walk on the levees, before taking leave of our gracious host. The tide is rising, pouring through manmade culverts that connect the tidal marsh to the nurturing waters of the Bay. For us, a stream of questions and ideas pours through our minds, connecting us to the essence of our work—applying our science to improve conservation outcomes.

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