Mapping How Birds Are Affected by Human Activity

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Anthropogenic disturbance to wildlife has become a problem that is more measurable for conservation biologists. Radar, GPS, satellite and airborne sensors and other monitors have been used to measure how birds, including waterfowl and other sensitive species, are affected by human activity.

One example comes from the Netherlands, where radar monitoring was used to indicate that at around midnight on New Year’s Eve a large number of birds, in the thousands, within a 45 minute period fly over conservation areas (Related: Mass Movements So Large You Can See Them on Radar. This can only be attributed to fireworks scaring these birds as nearby towns use fireworks at that time. While this may seem harmless, the timing of the disturbance could affect one of the most important wintering grounds in Europe for waterfowl birds, as these grounds are important wintering habitat areas.[1]

Although noise and other forms of pollution have greatly influenced migratory birds, other mapping has documented fragmentation of bird habitats across different landscapes. Conservation often means some areas are conserved or protected while other areas maybe open to development. This creates patchy landscapes that might be suitable for some species but for migratory birds this often can have detrimental effects as they depend on a variety of seasonal resources spread across different landscapes. One spatial approach, using field survey, and analyzing the data using a penalized quasi-likelihood inference statistical method demonstrated that spatial patchiness is causing statistically significant harm to some bird species.[2]

From: Decker, D.J., M.E.. Krasny, G.R. Goff, C.R. Smith and D.W. Gross, editors. 1991. Challenges in the conservation of biological reserves - a practitioner’s guide. Westview Press. 402 pp.

From: Decker, D.J., M.E.. Krasny, G.R. Goff, C.R. Smith and D.W. Gross, editors. 1991. Challenges in the conservation of biological reserves – a practitioner’s guide. Westview Press. 402 pp.

Combining spatial data with systems dynamics modeling has shown that endangered birds, such as skylarks (Alauda arvensis) from Eurasia, are affected by the development of wind farms. Breeding populations and areas near habitat zones appear to be affected by this development, leading to population decline by the bird species as they attempt to migrate or breed in given regions. Multiple systems modeling has the benefit of incorporating different factors, including natural conditions as well as areas that might be affected by decisions on where to build wind farms.[3]

Using spatial analysis and classification techniques of landscapes, in some cases it has been shown that anthropogenic alternations, such as building dams in China, has helped some types of birds. Anseriforme birds, which are waterfowls and ducks, were seen to benefit from dam activity as habitat areas, where swampy and wet areas benefited the bird, were created through higher ground water levels in regions as dam waters backed up in given areas. Changes in hydrology created better conditions for selected bird species. However, even if this seems beneficial to some species, this could have determent for others as the habitat changes. In effect, human activity may sometimes provide benefits to some threatened birds or species but could lead to detrimental conditions for other birds.[4]

In fact, one recent study showed that mitigation techniques that are intended to help birds with the loss of habitat can benefit some species but those benefits can have negative results for other species. In one case, mitigation to help birds after fire disturbance helped three species, but that fire was, in fact, beneficial for some species by creating a new habitat. Thus, mitigation led to six species being negatively affected by mitigation techniques against fire. What GIS can show is how spatial variability and unintended consequences could be evident when suppression of negative anthropogenic results are applied. Sometimes the mitigation strategies become a more negative anthropogenic effect.[5]

Animation Showing Disturbance of Birds Fleeing Fireworks on New Year’s Eve, 2017-2018

The University of Amsterdam monitors the reactions of birds to fireworks using weather radars.

The University of Amsterdam monitors the reactions of birds to fireworks using weather radars.

Overall, GIS and spatial analysis have demonstrated the complexity of how anthropogenic disturbances  could affect birds and bird habitats. While it has been shown that even fireworks could have a negative effect on birds, even mitigation strategies do not necessarily improve the situation for bird species. Multivariate factors have to be accounted for, requiring a management or mitigation strategy to be evaluated before it is implemented. GIS can also assist in this by forecasting effects through the use of modeling, simulation and other techniques. Increased presence of sensors and other monitoring tools have helped in tracking and mapping human impact on bird species; however, effective strategies have not been as easily developed.

References

[1]    For more on mapping waterfowl disturbance on New Year’s Eve, see:  Shamoun-Baranes, J., Dokter, A. M., van Gasteren, H., van Loon, E. E., Leijnse, H., & Bouten, W. (2011). Birds flee en mass from New Year’s Eve fireworks. Behavioral Ecology, 22(6), 1173–1177. https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arr102.

[2]    For more on patchy effects on landscapes and its effect on birds, see:  Vergara, P. M., & Armesto, J. J. (2009). Responses of Chilean forest birds to anthropogenic habitat fragmentation across spatial scales. Landscape Ecology, 24(1), 25–38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-008-9275-y.

[3]    For more on the study looking at skylarks and how they are affected by wind farms, see:  Vergara, P. M., & Armesto, J. J. (2009). Responses of Chilean forest birds to anthropogenic habitat fragmentation across spatial scales. Landscape Ecology, 24(1), 25–38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-008-9275-y.

[4]    For more on how dams affected land use change and birds and the use of GIS in this study, see:  Vergara, P. M., & Armesto, J. J. (2009). Responses of Chilean forest birds to anthropogenic habitat fragmentation across spatial scales. Landscape Ecology, 24(1), 25–38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-008-9275-y

[5]    For more on how mitigation of anthropogenic effects could be negative for some bird species, see:  Gallo, T., Stinson, L. T., & Pejchar, L. (2017). Mitigation for energy development fails to mimic natural disturbance for birds and mammals. Biological Conservation, 212, 39–47. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.05.023.

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