About This Project
The overall goal of this project is to conserve Least Tern populations that breed in the northeastern U.S. Currently we know very little about where this species occurs during migration or on the wintering grounds. By specifically linking breeding colonies with known wintering and migratory stopover sites we will be able to assess the full range of threats faced by the species during the course of the year, rather than solely focus on the goal of preventing human disturbance of nesting areas.
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What is the context of this research?
In contrast to the relatively intense conservation management activities devoted to Least Terns from May through August, almost nothing is known about the species’ distribution and ecology during the remainder of the year (Thompson et al. 1997). In fact, because birds hatched in a given year are absent from their breeding grounds until 2 or 3 years of age (Massey and Atwood 1981, Atwood and Massey 1988), the whereabouts of a 5-year-old Least Tern would be completely unknown for nearly 90% of its life. Similarly unknown is any information about the species’ ecology or behavior away from the nesting sites, including assessments of possible threats that might exist in these areas.
What is the significance of this project?
The long term goal of this project is to conserve Least Tern populations that breed in the northeastern U.S. Currently we know very little about the distribution of this species during migration or on the wintering grounds. These results of this project will allow development of a full life-cycle conservation plan for Least Terns, an objective that currently is hampered by our lack of knowledge about the species’ distribution or ecology during the non-breeding season. By specifically linking breeding colonies with known wintering and migratory stopover sites we will be able to assess the full range of threats faced by the species during the course of the year, rather than solely focus on the goal of preventing human disturbance of nesting areas.
What are the goals of the project?
Year 1 (2017) -- At 2 study colonies located in Massachusetts, we will (a) deploy a total of 11 GPS tags on nesting Least Terns. In Year 2 (2018) we will locate and trap as many of these returning individuals as possible, removing their GPS tags for analysis of their movements during the preceding 12 months.
We hope to purchase 11 Lotek Pinpoint GPS tags (http://www.lotek.com/pinpoint-gps.htm) to track Least Terns trapped at 2 Massachusetts breeding colonies during their approximately 12 month migration to and from their South American wintering grounds. Until recently, tracking the movements of small seabirds such as Least Terns was hindered by the weight and spatial precision of small tracking devices. The units that we will use in this study weigh approximately 1 gram – only 0.03% of the body weight of a typical adult Least Tern. Location information that is recorded on each unit will be accurate to a scale of approximately 10 m. Because the GPS tags must be recovered after deployment the previous year, this project will not be completed until fall 2018.
Meet the Team
I am a Bird Conservation Fellow, concentrating on grassland bird conservation, at Mass Audubon in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I have been a practicing ornithologist and conservation biologist for 30 years, specializing in integrating behavioral studies of rare and endangered bird species with habitat conservation planning. While working at Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences during the early 1990’s I collaborated in the analysis of the first 30 years of Manomet’s landbird banding effort, spearheaded federal protection of the California Gnatcatcher under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, led a long-term study of factors affecting Least Tern colony site selection, and contributed to early studies of Bicknell’s Thrush. From 1998-2011 I directed the Conservation Biology Program at Antioch University, New England, taught classes in Ornithology, Ecological Research Design, and GIS, and mentored over 70 graduate students working on various wildlife studies. During 2011-2013 I worked as Science Director at Biodiversity Research Institute in southern Maine.
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