Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Science News: Sea Level Rise Planning, Ensuring Safe Science, and more!

Better Science for Better Sea Level Rise Planning

Most climate change projections forecast at least 10 inches (25 cm) of sea level rise in California within 30 years. At every high tide, this could mean flooded areas where 37,000 people live and 13,000 people work, affecting $8 billion in property value. This is already a significant risk for coastal planners to consider, but if considered alone, may not be enough to adequately protect communities. In new research led by our partners at USGS and co-authored by Point Blue’s Maya Hayden, Ph.D., projected coastal flooding dramatically increased when storms were included in the models. This may seem daunting, but it’s actually helpful news. With a better idea of what to plan for, we are more likely to have success in adapting to future change. We’re not only helping to provide better data, we’re also urging (and implementing!) appropriate nature-based solutions. These solutions include approaches like targeted tidal marsh restoration that will provide multiple benefits–shoreline erosion protection, habitat, carbon sequestration–for people and wildlife. Read more in our press release and in an LA Times front page article.

Photo: California King Tide 2017. Credit: California Sea Grant.

Waterbirds Prefer a Mosaic of Crops

Despite the loss of over 90% of its natural wetlands, California’s Central Valley is still extremely important to wintering and migratory waterbirds. Conservation of waterbirds and their habitat in the Central Valley is urgently needed in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta region, where environmental problems are increasingly complex. In a recent publication, Dave Shuford (see Scientist Spotlight below) and his co-authors recommend how to maintain robust waterbird populations alongside agriculture in the Valley. A mosaic of corn, rice, alfalfa, irrigated pasture, and managed wetlands can provide both intentionally flooded and dry fields that together include the habitat requirements for a variety of waterbirds. Read more in our publication brief.
Photo: Flooded Agriculture and Sutter Buttes. Credit: Blake Barbaree.

Ensuring Safe Science

Point Blue Avian Ecologist Diana Humple was recently part of a truly global collaboration that included researchers from 20 countries around the world. Together, they performed an examination of the effects of geolocator tags on small birds. The technology that allows us to track movement and assess health and change in bird populations is evolving, and it is critically important that we ensure our research does not harm the species we aim to conserve. The study found no impact on breeding, timing, or body condition, and only a weak negative effect (and not for all studies) on apparent survival of small songbirds when using geolocator tags, and suggests ways researchers can minimize impacts. These are encouraging results, especially given the contribution of tagging studies to the conservation of migratory species. The paper encourages further use of geolocators while considering and studying potential negative effects.
Photo: Geolocator tag (next to a bird band and a penny) used at Point Blue to track migratory movement of songbirds like, Golden-crowned Sparrows and Swainson’s Thrushes. Credit: Point Blue photo.

Better with Age

As with fine wines, aging can often come with advantages for birds. In a recent study led by Point Blue Research Associate Amélie Lescroël, our team found that penguins tend to become more efficient at gathering food as they get older, which improves their ability to survive and raise young. These results help us understand how different individuals within a population cope with environmental change and are only possible with long-term studies. Learn more in our publication brief or the full paper.
Photo: Adelie penguin with an accelerometer on its back. Credit: David Grémillet.


News Bites

A Look into the Darkness. In case you missed it, take a look at this Audubon Magazine story with photos by our friend Chris Linder about our new research into the mysterious winter world of the Adelie Penguin, the role of climate change, and implications for the new Ross Sea Marine Protected Area.

California Gulls Face a Growing Threat. Take a look at page 6 of this recent Mono Lake Newsletter to learn more about how California Gull nesting success is being threatened by an invasive plant. Point Blue Biologist Kristie Nelson leads the gull work at Mono Lake and is featured in the article.

Grant helps San Benito students connect to land. Thanks to a community impact matching grant from the Community Foundation for San Benito County, our Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) program is engaging South Bay communities in riparian and pollinator hedgerow climate-smart restoration projects that create habitat, enhance water quality, and are resilient in the face of climate change. Read about STRAW’s impact in San Benito County in this article by Point Blue’s Jenni Benson.

Fluorescence in Seabird Beaks. After over 50 years of studying seabirds on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife refuge, we’ve shone a light on a biological secret that’s been hiding in plain sight: Rhinoceros Auklet bills glow under UV light! Read all about it in our recent publication brief.

Science Events

Seabird Diet Study Demonstration. Thursday, May 2nd. The Point Blue lab will be at the Exploratorium in San Francisco showing off Brandt’s cormorant pellets. Don’t know what those are? Come see!
Photo: Former marine lab intern, Grace Kumaishi sharing our science with a visitor. Credit: Meredith Elliott/Point Blue.


Discover Alaska. Saturday, May 18th – Saturday, May 25th. Explore Alaska’s coastal wilderness with Point Blue scientists as guides aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion.
Photo: Kayak and sculpted ice berg, Tracy Arm Fjord. Credit: Ralph Lee Hopkins. 


Point Blue Annual Meeting & Bird-A-Thon Highlights. Wednesday, June 5, 7:00 – 8:30 PM, Larkspur, CA. Gather with fellow supporters of Point Blue to elect new Directors of the Board followed by a special presentation by Point Blue Research Director Nat Seavy, PhD, “Where They Go: Tracking Birds Across Continents and Decades,” and Bird-A-Thon celebration. RSVP by May 24, 2019 to Jaime Lilly at
Photo: Point Blue Palomarin staff admiring a Canada warbler. Credit: Nicole Gaudenti/Point Blue. 

Scientist Spotlight:

Dave Shuford, Senior Biologist

Dave Shuford, known to many as “Shuf,” retired at the end of March after 40 years of advancing conservation science at Point Blue. Dave has been lead or coauthor on close to 100 publications. Needless to say, Dave is a prolific scientist, largely contributing to and influencing wetland and shorebird conservation. He also served as a mentor to many of the scientists he worked with, setting the standard for rigorous, objective peer-review. We’re so grateful to Dave for all of the passion, intellect, and work he has dedicated to conservation with us and we’re excited to have him stay connected to Point Blue as a Research Associate.

Here are some of Dave’s reflections on his transition:

“It has been a long and incredible journey that started when I arrived at Palomarin as an intern in 1975, shortly after getting a Master’s degree at UC Davis and wondering what the heck I would do with my life. Yet after falling in with a group of Davis birders – some of whom later became prominent conservationists – it was soon clear my passion was for birds and that was the path to follow.”

Read more from Dave in our blog post.

Photo: Dave and son, Aiden, at the 2017 Sonoma Mountain Music festival. Credit: Lishka Arata/Point Blue.