Thursday, March 7th
How can we measure the impacts of our actions on the natural world? Animals’ interactions with the environment make them useful indicators of ecological integrity, allowing us to assess ecosystem responses to human impacts. In this presentation, we demonstrate how we can use animal studies to measure environmental sustainability. We show applications for both terrestrial and aquatic environments, using both sentinel species and animal community indexes with different sensitivities to environmental disturbance. For terrestrial environments, we provide examples of quantifying bird community and population responses to land management in a wide range of contexts. For aquatic environments, we provide examples of quantifying benthic invertebrate communities in response to human impacts in both freshwater and marine ecosystems.
Just as the canary in the coal mine alerted people to the air quality underground, animal species or population declines signal problems such as excessive exploitation, deteriorating habitat, or environmental pollution. By acting to mitigate our impacts and monitoring animals’ responses, we can assess the effectiveness of conservation efforts. For example, when severe declines of Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and other birds were linked to widespread poisoning by DDT, this pesticide was banned and rigorous efforts made to enable these and other species to recover from the brink of extinction in North America. Monitoring and responding to changes in animal communities provides us with the means to make evidence-based decisions to protect the ecosystems on which all life depends.
Nico is Lead Scientist at the Crane Trust, where she conducts collaborative research on migratory bird ecology and conservation in response to land management and climate change. She has 20 years of experience studying ecological communities and populations and their responses to human impacts. To date, she has coauthored nearly 40 scientific publications on birds and other wildlife in the Americas, Africa and Madagascar, Europe and the Middle East, and the tropical Pacific. Prior to joining the Crane Trust, she held postdoctoral positions in conservation biology and avian ecology at the Smithsonian Institution and Drexel University. She earned her BA from Yale University, MS from Cornell University, and PhD from the University of Georgia.