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A partner in "one of the nation's greatest conservation success stories."

PRBO News and Highlights

Major accomplishments and media attention recently have shone a light on PRBO's growing influence in the world of science-based conservation.

The front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 27, 2006, headlined PRBO's role in successful restoration of valuable wildlife habitat along the Sacramento River. Chronicle environment writer Glenn Martin quoted PRBO's Tom Gardali and Michael Rogner, along with Joe Silveira of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Greg Golet of The Nature Conservancy--partners in "one of the nation's greatest conservation success stories." The article cites PRBO data(1) showing that bird populations recover quickly when former agricultural tracts are revegetated with plants native to the once expansive thickets along the Sacramento River. The story is linked to our home page

(1) These findings first appeared in the journal Restoration Ecology in a paper by by PRBO Senior Scientist Tom Gardali et al.

On December 5, 2006, a team in which PRBO is active won a Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (2) for success in restoring Lower Clear Creek. This 17-mile stretch flowing into the northern Sacramento River was severely damaged by over a century of mining but responded to integrative restoration efforts founded in part on PRBO avian monitoring. Says Ryan Burnett, Program Leader in PRBO's Terrestrial Ecology Division, this "state-of-the-science project… is truly a culmination of everything we have learned and thus a great example of ecosystem-based, adaptive management." Along with the return of spawning salmon and steelhead, native songbird populations have rebounded at Clear Creek, indicating the recovery of an entire streamside system.

Violet-green Swallow is one subject of a study linking climate change to shifts in the timing of seasonal phenomena. © PETER LATOURRETTE

"A Warming World: Spring Gets Out of Sync," read the San Francisco Chronicle headline on December 14, 2006. The story, by environmental reporter Jane Kay, discussed work by PRBO Research Associate Dave Winkler, PhD, of Cornell University. In this hemispheric study of migratory swallows, PRBO biologists assist at sites in Lee Vining Canyon (Mono Lake), Olema Valley (Point Reyes), and Cosumnes River Preserve (Sacramento Valley. Also featured in the coverage was a member of PRBO's Board and Science Advisory Committee, Stanford University professor Terry Root, PhD, a leading researcher into impacts of global warming on the timing of phenomena in nature.

Cassin's Auklets on Southeast Farallon Island experienced unprecedented reproductive failure in 2005, echoed in 2006, attracting wide media attention. Analyzing this event, recent scientific publications(3) from PRBO show that a changing climate could have compound impacts on this small seabird's population. Explains Bill Sydeman, PRBO Director of Marine Ecology Research, "Climate variability affected not only breeding success but also adult survival, recruitment (first-time breeders entering the population), and breeding effort. And when these four parameters varied, they did so "in phase" with one another, not opposite to one another. In other words, poor breeding success is not balanced by high adult survival. This means that the auklet population could be subject to rapid change. Not good news for susceptibility to climate change."

(3) Geophysical Research Letters, Fall 2006; Journal of Animal Ecology, in press.

PRBO reported to the California Coastal Conservancy in late 2006 on Phase II of our "Habitat Conversion Model"(4) for South San Francisco Bay. This powerful computer model helps planners predict future change scenarios for the huge South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.(5)It quantifies trade-offs, inherent in restoration, among tidal marsh and managed pond habitats for a wide array of bayshore species. Of note: the model highlights positive solutions achievable by combining intensive management with balanced habitat configurations and phasing of restoration activities over time.

(4) (5)
A male Snowy Plover displays on his territory on the alkali crust of Owens Lake bed.PRBO Photo by Chris Rintoul

Breeding Snowy Plovers at Owens Lake have increased threefold over average numbers from the late 1970s through 2001. PRBO findings(6) at this mostly dry basin east of the Sierra Nevada have shown that shallow flooding, part of an ongoing dust control project begun in 2002, has significantly benefited the plovers--which are now more dependent on man-made habitat, however. Interior-breeding Snowy Plovers are categorized as a species of special concern by the State of California, based on work recently completed by PRBO's Dave Shuford and Tom Gardali.

(6) Western Birds 37:126-138

PRBO biologist Katie Fehring is a co-author of Status and Trends in Demography of Northern Spotted Owls, 1985-2003,(7) a major synthesis of studies in 14 areas in three Pacific states.

(7) Wildlife Monograph Series 163, July 2006.

Marine Ecology staff at PRBO recently completed an atlas of seabird and marine mammal distributions(8) in the California Current System, which reaches from British Columbia to Baja California. Dozens of maps in the atlas summarize distributions for 24 bird and nine mammal species in three regions where we conduct offshore surveys.

(8) Downloadable as a PDF at

PRBO education specialists are participating in a statewide public awareness campaign for the oceans(9) (see page 8). Funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, California's "Thank You, Ocean" campaign may serve as model for similar projects throughout the United States.