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Department ofBotany

No. 339
March 2013

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In This Issue

Scrub-Jay on Santa Cruz Island is among Rarest Bird Species in the U.S.

Adapted from

Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute scientists and collaborators have found that the island scrub-jay's population on Santa Cruz Island—its only habitat—is significantly smaller than previously believed and that it is therefore at greater risk of extinction. According to the study, published in Ecological Applications, the previous estimate of 12,500 birds is five times larger than the actual population and the new data make the jay one of the 10 rarest songbird species in the continental United States. While the number of birds on the island is lower, the researchers estimate that the island scrub-jay population has actually grown between 20 and 30 percent over the last few decades.

"If you're trying to manage populations or conserve them, first you need to know how many there are," said Scott Sillett, SCBI researcher and lead author of the paper. "Without good information, conservation resources could be wasted or important populations overlooked."

Island Scrub-Jay © Colin Woolley

Image above: Island Scrub-Jay © Colin Woolley

The researchers counted jays from 307 points on Santa Cruz Island. Using vegetation maps, they found that jays were most abundant in upper- to mid-elevation plant communities that are dominated by island scrub-oak. Because the birds are harder to detect in denser habitats, the scientists were not able to physically count every jay. Instead they used an extended statistical model that provided an unbiased estimate of the jay population. Incomplete sampling led to the incorrect earlier estimates, according to Sillett.

The statistic model also allowed the scientists to estimate previous populations based on vegetation maps from 1985. They found that although the island scrub-jays are rarer than thought, the removal of non-native sheep, pigs and cows that destroy the birds' habitat on the island has led to the increase in population.

"Citizens often hear conservation doom and gloom, but in this case we have both good news and a cautionary tale," Sillett said. "The number of jays has increased in the past 30 years thanks to wise stewardship of the Santa Cruz Island by The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. National Park Service. I believe the island scrub-jay may have a brighter future."

The innovative method to determine the abundance of this species can be applied to other animal species that may require conservation action. As a result of this research, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has changed the island scrub-jay's status from near threatened to vulnerable. Potential threats to this jay's small population include restricted island range, lack of genetic diversity, West Nile virus and loss of habitat to oak disease and wildfire.

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Wang, J.Y., Yang, S.C., Fruet, P.F., Daura-Jorge, F.G., and Secchi, E.R. 2012. Mark-recapture analysis of the critically endangered eastern Taiwan Strait population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis): implications for conservation. Bull. Mar. Sci. 88(4):885-902.

Wang, Y.P., Wang, X., and Ding, P. 2012. Nestedness of snake assemblages on islands of an inundated lake. Curr. Zool. 58(6):828-836.

Wang, Z.M., Wu, J.G., Madden, M., and Mao, D.H. 2012. China's wetlands: conservation plans and policy impacts. Ambio 41(7):782-786.

Ward, E.J., Pess, G.R., Anlauf-Dunn, K., and Jordan, C.E. 2012. Applying time series models with spatial correlation to identify the scale of variation in habitat metrics related to threatened coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) in the Pacific Northwest. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 69(11):1773-1782.

Watling, J.I., Romanach, S.S., Bucklin, D.N., Speroterra, C., Brandt, L.A., Pearlstine, L.G., and Mazzotti, F.J. 2012. Do bioclimate variables improve performance of climate envelope models? Ecol. Model. 246:79-85.

Weaver, J.E., Conway, T.M., and Fortin, M.J. 2012. An invasive species' relationship with environmental variables changes across multiple spatial scales. Landscape Ecol. 27(9):1351-1362.

Weston, M.A., McLeod, E.M., Blumstein, D.T., and Guay, P.J. 2012. A review of flight-initiation distances and their application to managing disturbance to Australian birds. Emu 112(4):269-286.

Widerberg, M.K., Ranius, T., Drobyshev, I., Nilsson, U., and Lindbladh, M. 2012. Increased openness around retained oaks increases species richness of saproxylic beetles. Biodivers. Conserv. 21(12):3035-3059.

Willcox, E.V., and Giuliano, W.M. 2012. Roller chopping effectively reduces shrub cover and density in pine flatwoods. Restor. Ecol. 20(6):721-729.

Willette, D.A., and Ambrose, R.F. 2012. Effects of the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea on the native seagrass, Syringodium filiforme, and associated fish and epibiota communities in the Eastern Caribbean. Aquat. Bot. 103:74-82.

Wilson, B.A., Valentine, L.E., Reaveley, A., Isaac, J., and Wolfe, K.M. 2012. Terrestrial mammals of the Gnangara Groundwater System, Western Australia: history, status, and the possible impacts of a drying climate. Aust. Mammal. 34(2):202-216.

Wirsing, A.J., and Heithaus, M.R. 2012. Behavioural transition probabilities in dugongs change with habitat and predator presence: implications for sirenian conservation. Mar. Freshwater Res. 63(11):1069-1076.

Wundrow, E.J., Carrillo, J., Gabler, C.A., Horn, K.C., and Siemann, E. 2012. Facilitation and competition among invasive plants: a field experiment with alligatorweed and water hyacinth. PLoS ONE 7(10):e48444.

Wyckoff, P.H., Greiman, R., Krueger, A., and Luce, L. 2012. Forest dynamics at Minnesota's prairie-forest border driven by invasive buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and native bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa). J. Torrey Bot. Soc. 139(3):311-322.

Xu, C.L., and Schneider, D.C. 2012. Efficacy of conservation measures for the American lobster: reproductive value as a criterion. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 69(10):1831-1839.

Yamaura, Y., Oka, H., Taki, H., Ozaki, K., and Tanaka, H. 2012. Sustainable management of planted landscapes: lessons from Japan. Biodivers. Conserv. 21(12):3107-3129.

Yuan, N., Comes, H.P., Mao, Y.R., Qi, X.S., and Qiu, Y.X. 2012. Genetic effects of recent habitat fragmentation in the Thousand-Island Lake region of southeast China on the distylous herb Hedyotis chrysotricha (Rubiaceae). Am. J. Bot. 99(10):1715-1725.

Zanan, R.L., and Nadaf, A.B. 2012. Pandanus martinianus (Pandanaceae), a new endemic species from northeastern India. Phytotaxa 73:1-7.

Zeiter, M., and Stampfli, A. 2012. Positive diversity-invasibility relationship in species-rich semi-natural grassland at the neighbourhood scale. Ann. Botany 110(7):1385-1393.

Zhang, L., Zhang, L.B., and Liu, J. 2012. Polystichum yaanense (Dryopteridaceae), a remarkable new species from Sichuan, China. Novon 22(2):244-249.

Zhang, R., and Shea, K. 2012. Integrating multiple disturbance aspects: management of an invasive thistle, Carduus nutans. Ann. Botany 110(7):1395-1401.

Zilio, F., and de Mendonça-Lima, A. 2012. The White-rumped Hawk (Buteo leucorrhous) in southern Brazil: status, conservation, and first description of the nest. Ornitolog. Neotrop. 23(1):51-61.

Zuber, S.T., Muller, K., Laushman, R.H., and Roles, A.J. 2012. Hybridization between an invasive and a native species of the crayfish genus Orconectes in north-central Ohio. J. Crustacean Biol. 32(6):962-971.

Zuel, N., Griffiths, C.J., Hector, A., Hansen, D.M., Jones, C.G., and Albrecht, M. 2012. Ingestion by an endemic frugivore enhances seed germination of endemic plant species but decreases seedling survival of exotics. J. Biogeogr. 39(11):2021-2030.

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