Understanding the ways various decisions could change the habitat and livelihood of birds is always an important aspect of a project, no matter the scale. For habitat projects within the PLJV region, there is an online tool that can provide that type of information to conservation planners and project managers.
“The main thing we’re trying to do with the database is to connect the decision-makers to the data.”
The Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center’s online database, which is made possible in part by the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) for PLJV program, is a valuable resource to inform management decisions and contribute to the big picture for bird and habitat conservation. The publicly-available data — such as occupancy and density estimates and species counts for specific regions — can be used to determine which bird species are in a project area and how management and conservation decisions could impact their populations.
“The main thing we’re trying to do with the database is to connect the decision-makers to the data,” said Jen Timmer, conservation delivery biologist at Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, the organization that developed and hosts the database, analyzes the data and manages the larger IMBCR program. “Whether it’s a biologist for a field office or a national forest or a state-wide biologist, we’re trying to get them the best information available to make their decisions.”
Oftentimes impactful management decisions have to be made quickly, even when they could affect a large number of species and species of conservation concern.
“That’s where not just knowing what species could occur in an area, but having confidence in population sizes for species and knowing if they are increasing or decreasing, can help to make these management or conservation decisions,” Timmer said.
Timmer works closely with the dataset, ensuring it is useful for partners and that they know how to access and apply the information. To create this picture of bird populations, surveys are conducted everywhere across the PLJV landscape, on private and public land, and in ten other states as well.
If Timmer had to describe the process that produces this encompassing and informational data in one word, it would be rigorous.
Processing and Using the Data
Once the field surveys are completed, the data are entered into the database and cleaned up to make sure there are few errors. Then, analyses are run to estimate occupancy, density, abundance and trend for more than 270 different species. Each of these steps can take months to complete. Once it is ready for use, partners can then start to apply the data in a number of ways to plan and complete projects.
In addition to state agencies using the information for their state wildlife action plans, Timmer said it is also common for federal agencies to use the data to update management plans and complete environmental assessments.
“They can use the data to better understand how their activities or potential management practices could impact the species that occur there,” Timmer said.
PLJV works with state wildlife agencies and other partners to fund the IMBCR for PLJV program and makes these data accessible across the six-state region.
“The Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center is a valuable component of the IMBCR program,” said Anne Bartuszevige, PLJV Conservation Science Director. “It’s very helpful to be able to enter a query for the birds and areas we’re interested in and be able to evaluate the results across time and regions.”
Explore the Data
To help better understand potential uses of the Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center, we’ve put together a query to illustrate how the database can be used and act as a gateway to exploring it.
In this example, we run a query for the results of our 2019 study which used IMBCR grids to evaluate how grassland birds respond to increasing percent cover of shrubs, particularly mesquite. Grids were established in five percent cover categories. Under Individual Stratum, we selected PLJV-MSQ-HI, PLJV-MSQ-MH, PLJV-MSQ-MI, PLJV-MSQ-ML, PLJV-MSQ-LO. Then we searched for two species: Cassin’s Sparrow and Horned Lark.
If you’re new to the database, see our step-by-step instructions below.
- Open this link to the Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center.
- To run the query, accept the disclaimer and then click the red ‘Run Query’ button at the top of the page to see the results.
- After clicking on ‘Run Query’, the map will zoom into the area being queried. The blue circles are the grids that are sampled and the pink dots inside indicate the bird species has been detected at that grid.
- The second tab has the results for the occupancy analysis. Occupancy (Psi) is a metric that tells us probability that a species is occupying that location. Fewer detections of an individual species are required to calculate this metric making it useful for rare or difficult to detect species. If we understand the occupancy, we could design studies that target areas where occupancy is high to learn more.
- The third tab has the results for the density (D) analysis and also an estimate of population size (N). Because IMBCR uses distance sampling, we can correct density (and occupancy) for detection. Density is reported as birds/km2.
- The fourth tab has the list of species, the number of times that species was detected and the number of grids sampled in the queried surveys.
- The initial table has all detections lumped together but, if we were interested in seeing the counts by individual stratum, we can do that by selecting stratum in the drop-down menu in the upper lefthand corner and then selecting the “Refresh Counts & Efforts” button.
For help using IMBCR data in conservation planning, contact PLJV’s Conservation Science Director Anne Bartuszevige.