eBird Science: Prioritizing dynamic conservation for migratory birds

By Team eBird 1 Sep 2017
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus

What if, instead of buying habitat, conservationists could rent it when and where migratory birds need it most? eBird data is playing a critical role in helping make this a reality, enabling new cost-effective approaches to complementing protected areas with ‘pop-up’ wetlands. This work has just been published in Science Advances, “Dynamic conservation for migratory species.” To pinpoint where and when migrating shorebirds most need habitats in California’s Central Valley, scientists at The Nature Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Point Blue Conservation Science used models based on eBird data on shorebirds and NASA satellite data on surface pattern of wetlands and flooded agricultural fields. 

The Nature Conservancy then used a “reverse auction,” paying landowners to create temporary wetlands on their properties, since shorebirds depend on shallow water habitats for foraging. In a recent paper, this team of scientists report on this novel ‘dynamic conservation’ approach of using big data and new market mechanisms to create habitat when and where birds need it most. The scientists recorded a high amount of use of the rented fields: more than 180,000 observations of birds representing 57 different species during the spring of 2014. On average, the researchers found three times more bird diversity and fives time greater density on fields that participated in the program compared to un-enrolled fields. Since 2014, TNC has enabled farmers to create more than 50,000 acres of temporary wetlands during fall and spring migration. Dynamic conservation programs such as this can offer additional tools in an era of unprecedented and rapid global change, though the authors caution, are not a replacement for permanent protection. Read the full open-access paper here. 

This post was written by Mark Reynolds, the lead author on the paper featured above. If you do research that uses eBird data, and want your work featured for the eBird community as an eBird Science post, please write to us and include the words “eBird Science” in the subject.

If you’re interested in more information on this shorebird work, check out a longer article on All About Birds.