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Importance of PRBO's Work in Times of Unprecedented Change

Birds -- Nature's S&P 500

Ellie M. Cohen


Habitat on farmland: wildlife returns. PRBO Photo.
Birds are nature's S&P 500, excellent indicators of environmental health. Just as stock market indicators are warning us of tremendous volatility in our global financial systems, birds are providing warnings of the growing dangers in our global ecological systems.

Unlike the stock market, however, the scale and time lags in these systems don't allow us to wait it out until there is a "correction" in nature that might allow us to return to business as usual.

The human population on Earth is expected to exceed seven billion by 2012. Here in the Golden State, some eleven million more people are likely to take up residence by 2025, adding to the approximately 38 million already here. California hosts an agricultural industry that supplies about half of the nation's produce and a multi-billion dollar commercial fishing industry. It is also one of the world's five Mediterranean ecosystems, which together support almost 20% of the world's plant diversity.

The conflicts are clear. From riparian woodlands and grasslands to tidal wetlands, birds as well as humans are feeling the impacts from ever-growing habitat fragmentation and alteration.

Climate change exacerbates these impacts. More extreme weather, with unpredictable violent and deadly storms, flooding, drought, and heat, will affect migration, reproduction, and survival. All told, birds, other wildlife, and human communities are facing a rapidly rewoven and very different ecological fabric -- a future that scientists view as having no analogue with known historic conditions.

In the stock market, we demand some predictability, even if we have to borrow huge sums against our children's future to do it. Policy-makers have successfully argued that our societal functions would start failing without that. But natural systems will also start failing unless we develop new tools and new approaches. We urgently need an entirely new global conservation paradigm.


"Unlike the stock market, however, the scale and time lags in these systems don't allow us to wait it out until there is a "correction" in nature that might allow us to return to business as usual." --Ellie M. Cohen, President & CEO of PRBO Conservation Science

Thanks to you -- our members, supporters, and partners -- PRBO is uniquely positioned to make significant contributions to do just that.

Amidst some of the most altered landscapes in the country, PRBO's long-term songbird studies have led to riparian restoration successes that no one thought possible just a few years ago! We are applying our long-term studies of seabird diets and reproductive success on the Farallones to develop innovative and cost-effective approaches for improving management of commercial fish populations off our coast. Our work with private agricultural interests to make small, low-cost changes in their water management has provided critical wetland habitat to tens of thousands of migratory waterbirds. And we are now developing sophisticated predictive models to project where, under scenarios of future environmental change, birds and habitats will be -- to prioritize conservation investments for the highest ecological returns.
Ellie M. Cohen. PRBO photo.

For over 40 years, PRBO scientists have helped wildlife and habitat managers implement effective conservation solutions. Our long-term, standardized research provides unique insights into both human-caused and natural changes over time and provides the basis for our ability to address future uncertainty.

We fully expect to be here 40 years from now, studying bird populations and ecosystems to conserve birds, other wildlife and the ecosystems that we all rely on for our very survival.

Especially during these unprecedented times of change, PRBO's work is more important than ever. We are taking steps to ensure that PRBO remains organizationally strong through the next year and beyond, as we collectively face the global economic crisis.

With your continued generous support, we will continue to provide innovative, science-driven approaches to enhancing conservation outcomes in the face of our increasingly unpredictable ecological future. Thank you as always for your generosity!