By Published On: August 15, 2015

Monitoring Species Adaptations to Landscape Change in the Northern Rockies

Bird Conservation Region #10 (Northern Rockies)

Birds are sensitive to environmental change.  The history of bird conservation is ripe with examples of birds signaling landscape change or environmental contaminants.  In fact, birds often show population-level responses to change more quickly than many other species groups.  Monitoring patterns in bird distribution and abundance can therefore serve as an early indication of environmental or land use shifts. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is monitoring the distribution and abundance of breeding landbirds and waterbirds across all or portions of five states and six Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) in the mountains and prairies of the western United States.  BCRs were established and defined by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative as the scale most relevant to bird populations.  Our point level information is being used by numerous project partners to develop maps of predicted distribution, occupancy, and abundance based on environmental correlates.  As conditions change, information gathered through these programs can be used to identify areas of greatest change in species distribution and may help to identify those factors driving observed change.  Managers, then, will have information on the most critical areas to conserve or manage proactively for species occurrence, thus leading to persistence of birds and bird diversity as we experience long-term changes in land use and development, precipitation, temperature, and other climate-driven factors. 

The Intermountain West Joint Venture and American Bird Conservancy are using these data in development and refinement of a species-habitat relational database that can be used to identify priority habitats for conservation of sensitive species.  Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Montana Natural Heritage Program are using these data, with other data sets available, to generate habitat suitability models that are included in Montana’s Crucial Areas Planning System (CAPS)

CAPS is a spatial tool designed to identify areas of high resource value to the state and is available online to developers, county planners and other land use planners.  The value of CAPS, or any model-based tool, is intrinsically linked to the quality of the data defining the models.  Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory is pioneering methods to develop occupancy-based habitat models, which are more refined than models based on presence only data.  Our intent is to develop predictive occupancy-habitat models for priority species in BCR 10 (Northern Rockies) and other regions within the next 12 – 18 months.  

This project is being funded by the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative.  Thanks to their collaboration, over $125,000 has been contributed for three years to the project.  Please visit their website for more information.