Dr. Steven Matthews and Dr. Tonra received a generous SEEDS grant from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center to study interactions between wildlife and trees in light of ongoing oak mesophication. Mesophication refers to the process by which the loss of fire in the landscape shifts oak-hickory dominated forest to beech-maple. As oaks and hickories support enormous abundances of arthropods and food resources in the form of nuts, this can have. In addition to fire, oaks are also dependent on animals to disperse their seeds, and Blue Jays are one of the most effective disperses through their long movements and caching behavior. But if oaks decline, what will this mean for Jays? In turn, if Jays decline, will this have a multiplicative effect on the decline in oak forest? We will be working on precisely these questions by examining long term trends in oak mast (periodic fluctuations in acorn crops), jay population abundance, and designing studies of the impacts oak crops have on overwinter survival and dispersal behavior. We hope our work will go a long way to understanding the impacts of mesophication on wildlife and the feedbacks this can have on this important ecosystem, without altering forest management.
More good news this month, as Ohio Sea Grant generously funded an aspect of our Lake Erie Migratory Bird Ecology research. The funded project, " Emerald ash borer tree mortality and invasive species penetration into forested wetlands in the Lake Erie coastal zone: developing habitat restoration priorities", will examine the interaction between invasive tree pests, invasive wetland plants, and one of the fastest declining birds in North America.
Emerald Ash Borer will fundamentally change forest dynamics when it kills virtually every ash tree in the eastern hardwood region. In forested remnants of the Great Black Swamp of Ohio, we will determine if opening of the canopy from ash mortality results in increased invasion of the understory by species like Phragmites and Reed Canary Grass. These plants could out-compete important native woody understory plants in forested wetlands, like buttonbush and dogwood. We will then examine how changes in habitat structure impact use during migratory stopover by the rapidly declining Rusty Blackbird. This work will compliment Jay Wright's M.S. thesis, which focuses on multiple aspects of Rusty Blackbird migration, a yet to be examined stage of their annual cycle.
Great news for our research on Prothonotary Warblers, Dr. Tonra and Elizabeth Ames received a generous grant from the Columbus Audubon Society to examine the nesting ecology of this iconic species. Our project, "Thinking inside the box: Evaluating the relative value of natural vs. artificial cavities in habitat patches of varying size for Prothonotary Warblers", will fund an important aspect of Liz's thesis, as the bulk of work on this species has focused on birds in artificial nests. Understanding how breeding season limitation of individuals using natural cavities, which is the bulk of the population, is different from those using boxes is critical to conservation efforts. This work will complement other aspects of Liz's thesis, which includes testing for winter to breeding carry-over effects. Thank you Columbus Audubon for supporting our research!
The lab this month welcomed its newest member, Kristie Stein. Kristie worked for us this past Summer on our Black-crowned Night-heron project on Lake Erie. After a journey banding birds in Peru, we were lucky enough to recruit her to join the lab and take charge of the project, which will examine important factors limiting the population of this charismatic and regionally threatened bird in Western Lake Erie. Kristie is a Louisiana native, skilled field biologist, and avid hunter. We are so happy to have her join the family! Welcome Kristie!
Check out the blog post penned by Chris Tonra on our work on effects of dams on American Dipper life history on Ecography's webpage. Thanks Ecography!!
Thanks to the outlets that carried the story on the two papers we published on the impacts of salmon barriers on American Dipper life history, and their response to the Elwha Dam removal! Find one example here.
Visit the OSU School for Environment and Natural Resources web page for a story on our recent publication with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center on the bias in animal ecology towards single season studies, focused only on breeding, and the impacts this has on animal ecology and conservation. Many thanks to the studies other authors: Pete Marra, Emily Cohen, Scott Loss, and Jordan Rutter!
Artwork by Lauren diBiccari