1) Prairie bird diversity as a function of grazer species Temperate grasslands are among the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet. The Great Plains of North America are one of the few large temperate grassland systems on earth but historic and contemporary land conversion and grazing management threatens a wide range of species endemic to the region. Efforts to conserve these grasslands use both Bison and cattle as grazers to create heterogeneity without overgrazing. The American Prairie Reserve and the Fort Belknap Indian Community both maintain conservation herds of Bison that graze year-round on large unfenced management units (>10,000 acres). These management units exist within a matrix of public and private lands used primarily for cattle ranching, where cattle graze seasonally (Spring - Fall). As Bison reintroduction and "conservation ranching" become more popular as means to conserve temperate grasslands, understanding the biodiversity effects of these two species on both upland and riparian habitats is critical. Behavioral differences between Bison and Cattle are well established, but the biodiversity consequences of these differences are largely unstudied. Working with a team of SCBI and American Prairie Reserve staff and land managers including USFWS, BLM, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, we are studying how avian biodiversity varies on lands grazed by cattle, Bison and without bovine grazers.
2) Movement ecology & habitat selection of Long-billed Curlews Fine-scale movement data can teach us many things about an animal. From nitty-gritty details of microhabitat selection on the breeding grounds, to migration timing, distance and duration, to whether or not this year's breeding attempt was successful or not. In northcentral Montana, Long-billed Curlews act as our flying laboratories. With the assistance of state-of-the-art GPS tracking devices, we can walk with these birds through every day of their annual cycle. This unprecendented and intimate window into the lives of these birds will inform us about their evolved migratory strategies, and how and where we need to focus conservation actions to make sure there is a place for curlews in our rapidly changing Great Plains landscape. Following them through the year will take us from the glaciated plains of northcentral Montana, southward for a migration stopover in the irrigated agricultural fields of northern Texas, and on to the wintering grounds in the high elevation grasslands of central Mexico. This work is made possible with support and collaboration with several partners including The University of Oklahoma Animal Migration Research Group, Smithsonian Migratory Connectivity Project & Smithsonian Movement of Life program.
Watch how and why we catch and tag Long-billed Curlews at the American Prairie Reserve.
We can use movement data to show us when Long-billed Curlew parents are incubating their nest and how far they venture from the nest to forage for food on their "off-time". The nest is roughly in the center of the video below. Watch this curlew Mom move through a single day during incubation.
We tagged 7 Long-billed Curlews in May 2019 and 20 more in 2020. Some of these birds only check in with us when they are on the breeding grounds in Montana, while others are able to communicate their locations throughout the year via cellular phone networks. The video below is about 1.5 years of tracking data for 20+ birds. Amazing how fast migration is!