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Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Monitoring Bird Communities with Citizen Science in the Sky Islands

Photo of This is one of the wildfires that impacted bird point count stations that are being used to assess large-scale effects of wildfire and climate change on bird communities and habitats in the Arizona Sky Islands. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.This is one of the wildfires that impacted bird point count stations that are being used to assess large-scale effects of wildfire and climate change on bird communities and habitats in the Arizona Sky Islands. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : The Sky Islands of southeastern Arizona have bird species found nowhere else in the U.S., which leads to a vibrant state and local ecotourism industry. This research evaluates the use of citizen science in a region with increased stress from ongoing drought and wildfires.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Sanderlin, Jamie S. Block, William M.
Ganey, Joseph L. Iniguez, Jose
Research Location : Arizona, Coronado National Forest
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1147

Summary

The Sky Islands of southeastern Arizona have bird species found nowhere else in the U.S., which leads to a vibrant state and local ecotourism industry. The region has been under increased stress from drought and wildfire, which have unknown consequences on the bird species. These unique bird communities include many neotropical migratory bird species whose northern breeding range extends to these mountains, as well as many species typical of western North American montane forests. Many of these species are of conservation concern. Southern Arizona is unique in having skilled citizens able to identify birds by sight and sound. These citizens are eager to assist with monitoring bird populations, but often are unfamiliar with design and implementation of rigorous monitoring programs.

This project focuses on developing optimal monitoring designs for bird communities using citizen observers. Our objectives were to evaluate differences between avian communities along trails versus original transects established in the 1990s and evaluate differences between professional bird crew and citizen observers.

Forest Service scientists are using this information to determine optimal protocols (minimum effort for desired parameter accuracy) for a long-term monitoring plan. They show how this effort allows for inexpensive and statistically rigorous long-term monitoring, and fosters greater local involvement in science and conservation. They are using three years of data collected at trail and original transects to evaluate differences with avian communities on and off trails and between citizen and professional bird crew members. They developed a framework with avian monitoring programs to evaluate trade-offs for allocating samples between the number of occasions and sites with a fixed budget. This information, along with logistical considerations from the pilot study, is critical for development of a statistically rigorous long-term monitoring plan using citizen science.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Coronado National Forest
  • Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Friends of Cave Creek Canyon