Art and text by Claire Furio

A Leap in Bird Conservation

Biologists have documented declines and distribution shifts of harlequin ducks, Barrow’s goldeneyes, great blue herons, and other birds throughout their ranges. All of these are considered “species of concern”, a term that describes species at high risk because of limited or declining population numbers or reduced habitat, making them vulnerable to extinction or local extirpation.

New CuttingEdge Science

New cuttingedge science may better aid us in conservation efforts for these species! Glacier biologists are investigating the efficiency and accuracy of three non-invasive survey methods to assess occupancy and abundance of species of concern on streams in Glacier National Park. The three methods are ground surveys, camera traps, and environmental DNA.

1. Ground Surveys

Ground surveys are conducted by a team of two observers, leapfrogging along the stream’s edge. One person always keeps their eyes on the stream to watch for flying birds. During high water birds retreat to smaller streams or backwaters, so some birds get missed during stream counts.

2. Camera Traps

Camera traps on trails have proven to be an efficient and accurate technique for obtaining estimates of species abundance and occupancy in terrestrial ecosystems, but the methodology is untested on streams. Biologists have tested eDNA for strictly aquatic species, but not for riparian species like birds and mammals. Scientists will compare ground surveys, camera traps, and eDNA to determine if one survey method is best or if a combination of survey techniques is needed to obtain accurate and efficient answers. Biologists are also assessing impacts of human disturbance on waterbirds.

Conclusion

In conjunction, these techniques promise to give us new insights into Glacier’s harlequin ducks that were never possible before! Your support equips biologists with the data they need to protect these beautiful ducks for generations to come.

3. Environmental DNA (eDNA)

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is the pool of genetic material that can be collected from an environmental sample (like water or soil). eDNA is like a fingerprint that a species leaves behind when it passes through an area that can be used to identify it, even without directly observing it. As organisms move through their aquatic habitat, they leave behind a trail of shed cells, skin, waste, mucus, and feathers. Just a few drops of water can contain the DNA of many different animals, algae, viruses and bacteria. Scientists use these genetic clues to identify the cast of characters in a stream, even when they can’t be seen.

A watercolor infographic showing harlequin ducks.

How can you help harlequin duck research in Glacier?

This project and many other critical projects and programs would not be possible without your donations to the Glacier Conservancy.

Donate now to support important work like this in Glacier National Park!

EN