Researchers create private reserve in Dominican Republic for Bicknell’s Thrush

Bicknell’s Thrush, on Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire. Photo by Aaron Maizlish (Creative Commons)

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Bicknell’s Thrush has been identified as a globally vulnerable migratory bird in need of serious conservation efforts. The species travels each year between its breeding grounds in the Canadian maritime provinces and northeastern United States and its winter home in the Greater Antilles. Males and females use different habitats in winter: Females prefer middle-elevation forests that are more vulnerable to human disturbance than the higher, more remote forests used by males. A new study from The Condor: Ornithological Applications identifies key habitat for females in the remaining fragmented montane wet forests of the Dominican Republic.

Vermont Center for Ecostudies scientist Kent McFarland and colleagues used a combination of field and GIS methods to predict areas that would be the best to conserve for Bicknell’s Thrushes. They created a model to predict thrush distribution and habitat use, using occurrence data and environmental variables collected from field surveys, combined with land cover data from remote sensing. Thrush presence and abundance in an area was best predicted by the combination of elevation (densities peaked at ~600 m), aspect (northeastern slopes), the amount of forest cover within 1 km, and forest density.

McFarland and his colleagues then put their research into conservation action. They used the results of their surveys to help identify, purchase, and create the Dominican Republic’s first-ever private reserve, the 400-hectare Reserva Privada Zorzal. It’s named after the local moniker for Bicknell’s Thrush.

McFarland says, “70 percent of the land is to be forest and ‘forever wild’ while the remainder is for compatible crops such as organic chocolate. We are hoping that our work will be used to identify and prioritize additional lands for conservation of the Bicknell’s Thrush in the region and elsewhere.”

“Today’s multiple environmental threats and stressors (e.g., deforestation, predation by invasive species, climate change, bioaccumulation of heavy metal pollutants, etc.) are crafting an uncertain future for species with complex life cycles in their breeding grounds, stopover sites, and wintering grounds,” says Eduardo E. Ingio Elias, a senior research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who was not involved with this research. “However, to conserve key suitable habitat for any species, ornithologists and land managers need to identify where that habitat is, what the population survival is within that habitat, and what threats birds face there.”

Thanks to the American Ornithological Society for providing this news. 

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