PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 156, Spring 2009: Ecological Consequences of Climate Change


Field Work, Findings, Accomplishments

PRBO Highlights

CEO's Column
Fingerprints of Climate Change
Projecting Birds' Future
Song Sparrows and Climate
PRBO's Climate Change Initiative
Climate Modeling
Planned Giving
Focus on a Home Patch
PRBO Highlights

Seabirds on Southeast Farallon Island, where PRBO carries out long-term research on marine life in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are off to a mixed start to their breeding season. Cassin's Auklets, which failed completely in 2005 and 2006 due to a food-web crash, are showing signs that 2009 may be a good year for the population. As of mid-April, auklet nests in PRBO's study plot were 85% occupied. These small diving birds were evidently finding their food—krill—in good supply, a positive signal from the marine ecosystem. Upwelling, critical to the year's productivity, had cooled the sea surface temperature to 10C (50 F) by mid-March.
Brandt's Cormorant. Ron LeValley photo.

Brandt's Cormorants, in contrast, were absent from the island through mid-April. On the mainland, a number of birds washed ashore evidently starved. PRBO seabird biologists Russ Bradley and Pete Warzybok and their crew will document this year's outcome for auklets, cormorants, and other colonially breeding seabirds in the Farallon Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a state-listed endangered species in California, will be the focus of future PRBO surveys along the Sacramento River. The state's Department of Fish and Game has funded a new effort to be led by Terrestrial Ecology Division biologists Chrissy Howell, Mark Dettling, and Geoff Geupel. New PRBO strategies (page 9) have identified the Central Valley as a priority region because of threats facing wildlife habitats there.

Throughout the Sierra Nevada mountain range, 12 field biologists led by PRBO's Jay Roberts and Ryan Burnett began monitoring birds on National Forest lands this May. This huge new effort, to be detailed in future Observers, focuses on four bird species (Hairy Woodpecker, Fox Sparrow, Mountain Quail, and Yellow Warbler) selected by the Forest Service to be indicators of management activities on some five million acres of habitat. Bringing expertise in large-scale bird monitoring, PRBO will be sampling some 2,400 locations during the 2009 breeding season. This information will be important to the Forest Service in implementing their adaptive management strategy.
PRBO will monitor birds on Forest Service lands throughout the Sierra Nevada in 2009. Photo by Mark Hillary / Flickr Creative Commons.

At a West Coast-wide conference on "Climate Change, Natural Resources and Coastal Management," PRBO President and CEO Ellie Cohen was a plenary session speaker along with Dr. Terry Root (see cover story) and other experts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey sponsored this January 2009 event in San Francisco. PRBO scientists Jaime Jahncke and Diana Stralberg were also invited speakers. To see some of the many excellent presentations, please visit

"Will Many Endangered Species Recover?" is the title of a news report in the February 20th issue of Science, journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It features a study by John Wiens, PRBO's Chief Conservation Science Officer, and his colleague J. Michael Scott, of the U.S. Geological Survey. The two found that fully 80% of the species currently listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act are likely to require continuing conservation and management in order to persist.

A new bird exhibit on Alcatraz Island, which PRBO educators helped create, was unveiled in February, 2009. Millions of visitors to the historic monument each year will now learn about the biology and conservation of colonial seabirds there. Dedicating the exhibit, National Park Service speakers including superintendent Brian O'Neill expressed appreciation for PRBO's research and outreach on Alcatraz.


Congratulations are in order for several members of PRBO's staff.

Ellie Cohen, President and CEO, was among 100 women recognized nationally as "Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet" by the National Women's History Project in March 2009. Ellie was honored for her contributions toward understanding and addressing the negative impacts of rapidly accelerating environmental change on our ecosystems.

Catherine Hickey, a PRBO biologist, was promoted this spring to Associate Director of our Wetlands Ecology Division in recognition of her leadership in forging innovative programs to protect shorebirds and wetlands. Says John Wiens, PRBO's Chief Conservation Science Officer, "This recognizes the importance and value of Catherine's work in advancing shorebird conservation—not only inCalifornia, from the Central Valley to San Francisco Bay and the outer coast—but also nationally and internationally."

Rich Stallcup, PRBO's Naturalist, received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and Farallon Marine Sanctuary Association, and also a Special Recognition Award from U.S. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey. As a leader in the sanctuary's "Beach Watch" program, Rich trains other volunteers who help document patterns of seabird mortality along the coast of Central California.

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