Full Annual Cycle of the Prothonotary Warbler
The Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is a Neotropical migratory songbird that specializes on forested wetlands throughout its annual cycle. Breeding habitat is of great concern to Prothonotary Warbler conservation, as forested wetlands in North America have been hydrologically altered and deforested across their breeding range, creating a lack of both nesting cavities and overall nesting habitat. Presently, however, they are equally, if not more, threatened by habitat issues on their wintering grounds, as they specialize on one of the rarest and most endangered forest types globally, mangroves. Mangroves represent a small percentage of the forest in the world (<1% of tropical forest), and <30% are found in the Americas. They are being deforested at an alarming rate (35% loss from 1980-2000, and a loss rate of 0.66% per year from 2000-2005, globally), and in coming years the rate of loss is expected to greatly increase due to rising sea levels associated with climate change. Given the conservation status of both Prothonotary Warblers and the multiple habitats they rely upon throughout their annual cycle, it is critical that a full life cycle approach be taken to their management.
We are working to address the need for full annual cycle research in this species as part of the Prothonotary Warbler Working Group, comprised of researchers and conservationists from multiple regional Audubon Societies (Baton Rouge, LA; South Carolina), Virginia Commonwealth University, Arkansas State University, US Fish and Wildlife, and others. As a group we are combining our research efforts to examine large scale patterns across the species range, including estimating migratory connectivity using light-level geolocators and intrinsic markers, in order to inform conservation efforts. The Tonra Lab is examining seasonal interactions by working with breeding populations in central Ohio and establishing wintering grounds research in mangroves and alternative habitats in Panama. Much of our breeding season research is being conducted on the largest population in Ohio at the Hoover Nature Preserve, which has benefited from the dedicated conservation efforts of Charles Bombaci. Elizabeth Ames is leading this effort by completing her M.S. thesis on winter habitat carry over effects on arrival timing, breeding effort, and post-fledging survival.