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Hurricanes, Flu Viruses and PRBO

The Global View

Ellie M. Cohen


Ellie M. Cohen at the site of PRBO's new Center--a base for expanding conservation science in the Americas, Pacific, and beyond. PRBO photo
Hurricane Katrina painfully demonstrated the interconnectedness of our world, from its origins in West Africa to the global outpouring of support. Its devastating power, and the growing intensity of recent hurricanes, have been directly related to warming sea surface temperatures. Whether this trend is part of a natural cycle and/or has been accelerated by human activities is a question scientists may take years to answer. Yet most agree this trend will have enormous impacts on ecosystems and our communities--across oceans and across borders.

The spread of the newest deadly strain of avian influenza, H5N1, demonstrates another way in which our world is interconnected. Not only are wild birds infecting domestic poultry farms, but wild birds appear to be infecting one another as they intermingle on breeding and feeding grounds before migrating along different routes, raising the specter of a worldwide pandemic.

Health and environment officials across the world are gathering data on bird migration routes and areas where birds congregate, to gain an advantage on the spread of this particularly lethal virus.

How does global-scale environmental change, as exemplified by increased hurricane intensity and the rapid onset and spread of new disease, summon the best of PRBO?

As we embark on a long-term strategic planning process with Stanford University's Alumni Consulting Team, we intend to explore this very question.

· Bird research provides valuable contributions to the budding science of wetland restoration and design. Healthy wetlands are key to reducing the devasting impact of increased flooding from more powerful hurricanes, sea level rise, and reduced snow packs as a result of global warming.

· Bird research alerts us to the emergence of avian-borne diseases and the potential geographic path a new pathogen might take before becoming a dangerous pandemic.

· Bird research provides relatively inexpensive, easy-to-use measures as to how investments in conservation are working, or not--in any language!

Birds know no political borders, and as this issue of the Observer highlights, bird science can bring together researchers, practitioners and communities from across continents toward common ecological, economic and social goals.

Indeed, PRBO's highly regarded science, using birds as indicators of ecosystem health, is making significant strides towards more effective conservation.

A New Hub

Five years ago we asked what was needed to meet the ever-growing demand for our science. We identified as crucial to our success a cutting-edge communications and research infrastructure along with sufficient office space. Thanks to the generosity of many of you, we will move into our new San Francisco Bay Research Center in Petaluma next spring (see page 12).

Today, as we once again look to our future, we are asking ourselves, what can we dream of accomplishing over the next two decades? Should, or must, we expand our geographic and programmatic borders? How can we apply our award-winning bird ecology expertise to do even more to benefit wildlife and human communities around the globe?

Our future is waiting to be written. I invite you to be part of crafting our story. Please share your thoughts by emailing me at ecohen@prbo.org or sending a letter my way.

Thank you also for participating in our future financially. Your investment in PRBO is truly an investment for healthier ecosystems across borders--and across generations.