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Monitoring bird communities with citizen science in the Sky Islands

Date: August 25, 2016

This research evaluates the use of citizen science in a region with increased stress from ongoing drought and wildfires


High-severity burned patch from the 2011 Horseshoe Two Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona. Photo: U.S. Forest Service.
This is one of the wildfires that impacted bird point count stations that are being used to assess large-scale effects of wildfire and climate change on bird communities and habitats in the Arizona Sky Islands.
The Sky Islands of southeastern Arizona have bird species found nowhere else in the U.S., which leads to a vibrant state and local ecotourism industry. The region has been under increased stress from drought and wildfire, which have unknown consequences on the bird species. These unique bird communities include many neotropical migratory bird species whose northern breeding range extends to these mountains, as well as many species typical of western North American montane forests. Many of these species are of conservation concern.

Southern Arizona is unique in having skilled citizens able to identify birds by sight and sound. These citizens are eager to assist with monitoring bird populations, but often are unfamiliar with design and implementation of rigorous monitoring programs.

This project focuses on developing optimal monitoring designs for bird communities using citizen observers. Our objectives were to 1) evaluate differences between avian communities along trails versus original transects established in the 1990s, and 2) evaluate differences between professional bird crew and citizen observers.

We are using this information to determine optimal protocols (minimum effort for desired parameter accuracy) for a long-term monitoring plan. We show how this effort allows for inexpensive and statistically rigorous long-term monitoring, and fosters greater local involvement in science and conservation.

Key Findings

  • Using three years of data collected at trail and original transects to evaluate differences with avian communities on and off trails and between citizen and professional bird crew members.

  • Developed a framework with avian monitoring programs to evaluate trade-offs for allocating samples between the number of occasions and sites with a fixed budget.

  • This information, along with logistical considerations from our pilot study, is critical for development of a statistically rigorous long-term monitoring plan using citizen science.

Featured Publications

Sanderlin, Jamie S. ; Block, William M. ; Ganey, Joseph L. , 2014
Sanderlin, Jamie S. ; Block, William M. ; Ganey, Joseph L. ; Iniguez, Jose , 2013
Ganey, Joseph L. ; Block, William M. ; Boucher, Paul F. , 1996
Block, William M. ; Severson, Kieth E. , 1992

Forest Service Partners: 
Coronado National Forest
External Partners: 
Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative, Friends of Cave Creek Canyon
Research Location: 
Arizona, Coronado National Forest