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Understanding the Risk to Neotropical Migrant Bird Species of Multiple Human-Caused Stressors: Elucidating Processes Behind the Patterns.

Ralph S. Hames, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
James D. Lowe, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
Sara Barker Swarthout, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology
Kenneth V. Rosenberg, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

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Abstract

Ubiquitous human-caused changes to the environment act as multiple stressors for organisms in the wild, and the effects of these stressors may be synergistic, rather than merely additive, with unexpected results. However, understanding how focal organisms respond to these stressors is crucial for conservation planning for these species. We propose a paradigm that alternates extensive, broadscale data collection by volunteer collaborators to document patterns of response, with intensive fine-scale studies by professional researchers, to elucidate the processes underlying these patterns. We demonstrate this technique, building on our existing work linking patterns of population declines in the Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) to synergistic effects of acid rain and habitat fragmentation. To better understand the processes behind these patterns, we use a simple protocol to explore linkages between acid rain, leaching of calcium from the soil, and declines in the abundance of calcium-rich invertebrate prey species, which may be necessary for successful breeding by this thrush. We sampled at 40 study sites across New York that were chosen based on estimated acid deposition and soil properties. Our results show that the calcium content of the soils sampled is proportional to the soil pH, that the abundance of calcium-rich invertebrate prey tracks soil properties, and that the presence of a breeding Wood Thrush was correctly predicted in >70% of study sites by the biomass of calcium-rich prey, and in particular, the biomass of myriapods (Diplopoda). We show that a simple repeatable protocol, suitable for use by volunteers across broad geographic extents and ranges of habitat fragmentation, can help us understand the reactions of some forest birds to acid rain in combination with habitat fragmentation. We detail the development of this protocol for volunteers in the Birds in Forested Landscapes project, and describe future plans.

Key words

Multiple scales; synergistic effects; citizen science; habitat fragmentation; acid rain; forests; anthropogenic change; soil; calcium; invertebrates
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087