Songbirds and Energy Development

Energy development has become a primary source of anthropogenic habitat alteration in the western US, with the majority of development occurring within sagebrush dominated landscapes.  Since May 2008 we have been examining questions relating to fitness consequences for sagebrush-obligate birds nesting in the Upper Green River Basin, WY. Field crews locate and monitor songbird nests across an existing energy gradient in the Jonah gas field and Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA).  Our prior research has demonstrated decreased daily nest survival rates of the three sagebrush-obligate songbird species (Brewer’s sparrow, sagebrush sparrow and sage thrasher) with increased surrounding habitat loss due to natural gas development.  This decreased nest success was due to increased predation, with three quarters of observed nest depredation events attributed to rodents.  This research also identified a relationship between elevated songbird nest predation rates and rodent abundance in areas with increased habitat loss from energy development.

To better understand the cause of nest failures in this system, we must also examine mechanisms driving small mammal abundance. We are currently testing two alternative hypotheses to explain observed increases in small mammal abundance associated with energy development. Nest monitoring, small mammal trapping, and mesopredator surveys are being conducted across a gradient of habitat loss to asses whether predators for which rodents are a primary prey item may be less abundant near energy development.  We are also assaying body condition of captured small mammals to assess whether reclaimed areas near well pads, which are primarily composed of native and non-native grasses and forbs rather than sagebrush, are providing supplemental food to rodents.

Shrubland and grassland bird populations are declining faster than any other group of avian species in North America. With increasing demands for domestic sources of energy, the identification of specific mechanisms influencing nest predation is a critical next step in developing clear strategies for mitigating the impacts to songbirds breeding in energy fields.

 

Watch Nest Predation Clips!

Gallery

Reports & Publications

Hethcoat, M.G. and A.D. Chalfoun. 2015. Towards a mechanistic understanding of human-induced rapid environmental change: a case study linking energy development, nest predation and predators. Journal of Applied Ecology.  View PDF

Hethcoat, M.G. and A.D. Chalfoun. 2015. Energy development and avian nest survival in Wyoming, USA; A test of a common disturbance index. Biological Conservation 184: 327-334. View PDF

Gilbert, M.M. and A.D. Chalfoun. 2011. Energy development affects populations of sagebrush songbirds in Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management 75(4): 816-824. View PDF

Contact

Lindsey Sanders, M.S. candidate
WY Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit
Dept. 3166, 1000 E. University Avenue
Laramie, WY 82071
lsander7@uwyo.edu
lab: (307) 766-2091
fax: (307) 766-5400

Anna Chalfoun, Ph.D. – Project PI
Assistant Unit Leader/Assistant Professor
WY Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit
Dept. 3166, 1000 E. University Avenue
Laramie, WY 82071
achalfou@uwyo.edu
lab: (307) 766-6966
fax: (307) 766-5400

Project Lead

Lindsey is a MS student in the Zoology and Physiology Department at the University of Wyoming, based in the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.  She is currently studying the effects of anthropogenic habitat alteration via energy development on predator-prey dynamics.

Timeline

Summer 2008-2009: Two seasons of field research completed by Michele Gilbert and Anna Chalfoun. Field work consisted of nest searching and monitoring, avian point counts, and vegetation sampling.

Summer 2010-2011: Two seasons of field research completed by Matthew Hethcoat and Anna Chalfoun. Field work consisted of nest searching and monitoring, remote camera surveillance of nests to identify nest predators, visual predator surveys, vegetation sampling, and some small mammal trapping.

Summer 2014: Field research completed by Tracey Johnson and Anna Chalfoun. Similar field methods used as in 2010-2011.

Summer 2015-2016: Field research completed by Lindsey Sanders and Anna Chalfoun. Field work consisted of nest searching and monitoring, remote camera surveillance of nests to identify nest predators, vegetation sampling, robust small mammal capturing, scent stations to identify coyote and badger abundance, point counts to identify aerial predator abundance, giving-up density trays to assess perceived predation threat by rodents.

Funding & Partners

  • Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative, USGS
  • Wyoming Game & Fish Department
  • Wyoming Wildlife: The Foundation