Citizen science: Birders contribute valuable data on invasive plant species

Jun 16, 2010

In an effort to assess ties between birds' feeding habits and the spread of nonnative invasive plants, researchers provided ornithologists from four U.S. states with questionnaires on daily bird-plant encounters. The 1,143 unique interactions reported by the birders laid the groundwork for a study on the role of native birds in the seed dispersal of invasive plants throughout the U.S.

Clare Aslan and Marcel Rejmánek of the University of California, Davis mailed questionnaires to more than 1,000 members of the Ornithological Societies of North America in the states of California, Florida, New York and Washington. The questionnaires addressed daily birding activities, experience level of the birder, bird-plant interactions and any additional comments. The answers were analyzed by the researchers and compared with pre-existing empirical data and/or follow-up field observations.

From the 179 birders who responded, the researchers gathered 1,143 interactions—of those interactions, 539 (47 percent) involved feeding on fruits or seeds of nonnative plants. As birds feed on seed-bearing fruit or the seeds of plants themselves, they inadvertently drop leftovers in nearby soil or carry them greater distances in their plumage. The birders' reports suggest that--through their feeding and habitat preferences--specific birds are contributing to the spread of certain nonnative invasive plant species.

"The spread of is tricky to keep track of," said Aslan. "Even if scientists are able to pin-point the site of introduction, it's very difficult to untangle the method, frequency and route of dispersal. In the case of fruit-eating migratory birds, this can be even more challenging as the seed dispersal is more widespread. The goal is to link specific birds with their new-found preferences for certain invasive plant species."

For example, the common North American bird the Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) was reported to feed on the invasive Chinese tallow, glossy privet and European olive plants in California; the researchers later confirmed all three accounts through field observations. The survey analyses also identified 17 under-researched plant species of particular concern for invasion as they were observed to be frequented by birds; these reports provided scientists with research ideas.

"By gathering the daily observations of established ornithologists, we were able to locate a starting point for future studies," said Rejmánek. "We identified birds feeding on and nesting in plants introduced to the U.S., and we identified new plants that hadn't been considered for follow-up research before. Incorporating the findings from birdwatchers, we are able to prioritize research efforts and fill in some of the current knowledge gaps on the topic."

Explore further: Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

More information: Additional research on the role of birders in ecology will be presented at the Ecological Society of America's Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, August 1-6, 2010.

Provided by Ecological Society of America

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Eating like a bird helps forests grow

Apr 05, 2010

Lions, tigers and bears top the ecological pyramid -- the diagram of the food chain that every school child knows. They eat smaller animals, feeding on energy that flows up from the base where plants convert ...

Recommended for you

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

10 hours ago

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...

Researchers detail newly discovered deer migration

17 hours ago

A team of researchers including University of Wyoming scientists has documented the longest migration of mule deer ever recorded, the latest development in an initiative to understand and conserve ungulate ...

How Australia got the hump with one million feral camels

18 hours ago

A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia's remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled ...

Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

Apr 23, 2014

The Iron Curtain was traced by an electrified barbed-wire fence that isolated the communist world from the West. It was an impenetrable Cold War barrier—and for some inhabitants of the Czech Republic it ...

Humpback protections downgrade clears way for pipeline

Apr 22, 2014

Environmentalist activists on Tuesday decried Canada's downgrading of humpback whale protections, suggesting the decision was fast-tracked to clear a major hurdle to constructing a pipeline to the Pacific ...

Maine baby lobster decline could end high catches

Apr 22, 2014

Scientists say the number of baby lobsters settling off the rocky coast of Maine continues to steadily decline—possibly foreshadowing an end to the recent record catches that have boosted New England's lobster fishery.

User comments : 0

More news stories