Projects

Application of integrated long-term datasets to understand migrant habitat use along the MS, AL coasts

End Date: 01/13/18

Using data collected over 25 years of field sampling birds at a migration station in Alabama and weather surveillance radar data that reaches back 20 years, Professor Frank Moore of The University of Southern Mississippi will study how migratory land birds respond to environmental changes including climate change, changes in availability of habitat and severe weather events. The project is expected to inform migratory bird conservation and habitat management.

Abstract

Over two-thirds of all landbirds and over half of the migratory species that breed in temperate North America move long distances to nonbreeding areas in Mexico, Central and South America and Caribbean islands. Movement across the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is a conspicuous, energetically demanding feature of this bird migration system.

Habitats along the northern coast of the GOM provide the last possible stopover before fall migrants make a nonstop flight, and the first possible landfall for birds returning north in spring. Migrant-habitat relations are critical when birds must cross this barrier, yet the availability of suitable habitat for birds is often at odds with rapid growth and development in coastal landscapes.

Long-term data reveal declines among many migratory bird populations, and events associated with migration, including the quality and amount of stopover habitat, are implicated in this decline. The central objective of the proposed project is to determine how migratory land birds respond to environmental changes along Mississippi-Alabama coast during passage, including response to

  1. Climate change

  2. Changes in availability of coastal habitat

  3. Shorter term severe weather events.

We take advantage of the complementary spatial scales and sampling rates of two uniquely long-term data sets: (1) Local, on the ground data on the biology of migratory birds collected by the PI and his students/collaborators over 25 years at a migration station on Ft. Morgan Peninsula, Alabama, and (2) archival weather surveillance radar data that reach back over nearly 20 years along the northern coast of the GOM, including the MS-AL Gulf Coast study area. Integration of the two data sets permits us to meet the core objectives of this proposal and to draw inferences at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales pertinent to conservation migratory birds and management of a healthy coastal ecosystem.

Objectives

The central objective of the proposed project is to determine how migratory land birds respond to environmental changes along the Mississippi-Alabama coast when they stopover during passage, including response to

  1. Climate change

  2. Changes in availability of coastal habitat

  3. Shorter term severe weather events, such as tropical storms and hurricanes

Methodology

The project takes advantage of the complementary spatial scales and sampling rates of two, uniquely long-term data sets:

  1. Since 1990, the biology of individual migratory birds has been studied at a long term fall migration station on Ft. Morgan Peninsula, AL, by PI and his students/collaborators at the University of Southern Mississippi, which permits measurement of essential metrics (e.g., energy stores, length of stopover, fuel deposition rate) of migratory performance in relation to environmental change and possible impacts on ecosystem health.

  2. Nearly 160 radars comprise the US network of weather surveillance radars managed by NOAA, and archival radar data reach back 20 years. Two weather surveillance radars, one located in Slidell, Louisiana, and the other in Mobile, Alabama, sample the MS - AL coasts. As a way to measure coastal ecosystem health, bird distribution and abundance will be quantified over time using weather radar data, which will be mapped over a classified land cover from Landsat Thematic Mapper 5 (TM) imagery (30m pixel resolution) at different time periods (see Buler and Moore 2011 for detailed methods). Integration of the two long term data sets provides a transformative mechanism to connect local observations with large scale temporal processes, which dramatically increases our ability to understand a complex, multi-scale phenomenon.

Rationale

The compelling argument behind this project rests on a set of related facts:

  • Migration is a fundamental characteristic of the life history of many organisms.

  • Migratory birds stopover periodically between migratory flights in unfamiliar surroundings at a time when energy demands are high, often faced with the need to acquire food in a short period of time, while balancing conflicting demands between predator avoidance and food acquisition, competition with other migrants and resident birds for limited resources, unfavorable weather, exposure to parasites and pathogens, not to mention the need to make accurate orientation decisions upon departure.

  • How well migrating birds meet these challenges determines a successful migration and the likelihood of survival and future reproductive performance.

  • Over two-thirds of all landbirds and over half of the 322 migratory species that breed in temperate North America move long distances to nonbreeding areas in Mexico, Central and South America and the islands of the Caribbean.

  • The movement of birds across the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is a highly conspicuous, energetically demanding feature of this Nearctic-Neotropical bird migration system.

  • Migrant-habitat relations are critical when birds must cross the GOM, yet the availability of suitable habitat is often at odds with rapid population growth/development in coastal landscapes.

  • Long-term datasets reveal population declines among many migratory songbirds over the past quarter century.

  • Events associated with the migratory phase of the annual cycle, including the quality and amount of stopover habitat during migration, impact migrant populations and are critically important in the development of conservation strategies.