Concept: Golden Eagle
Proactive conservation planning for species requires the identification of important spatial attributes across ecologically relevant scales in a model-based framework. However, it is often difficult to develop predictive models, as the explanatory data required for model development across regional management scales is rarely available. Golden eagles are a large-ranging predator of conservation concern in the United States that may be negatively affected by wind energy development. Thus, identifying landscapes least likely to pose conflict between eagles and wind development via shared space prior to development will be critical for conserving populations in the face of imposing development. We used publically available data on golden eagle nests to generate predictive models of golden eagle nesting sites in Wyoming, USA, using a suite of environmental and anthropogenic variables. By overlaying predictive models of golden eagle nesting habitat with wind energy resource maps, we highlight areas of potential conflict among eagle nesting habitat and wind development. However, our results suggest that wind potential and the relative probability of golden eagle nesting are not necessarily spatially correlated. Indeed, the majority of our sample frame includes areas with disparate predictions between suitable nesting habitat and potential for developing wind energy resources. Map predictions cannot replace on-the-ground monitoring for potential risk of wind turbines on wildlife populations, though they provide industry and managers a useful framework to first assess potential development.
Second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) are commonly used for rodent pest control in Norway resulting in the potential exposure of non-target raptor species. In this study the occurrence of flocoumafen, difethialone, difenacoum, bromadiolone and brodifacoum was determined in the livers of five species of raptors found dead in Norway between 2009 and 2011. The SGARs brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum and flocoumafen were detected in golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and eagle owl (Bubo bubo) livers at a total SGAR concentration of between 11 and 255ng/g in approximately 70% of the golden eagles and 50% of the eagle owls examined in this study. In the absence of specific golden eagle and eagle owl toxicity thresholds for SGARs, a level of >100ng/g was used as a potential lethal range, accepting that poisoning may occur below this level. Thirty percent (7/24) of the golden eagle and eagle owl livers contained total SGAR residue levels above this threshold. Further estimation of the potential mortality impact on the sampled raptor populations was not possible.
Recreational ground squirrel shooting is a popular activity throughout the western United States and serves as a tool for managing ground squirrel populations in agricultural regions. Belding’s ground squirrels (Spermophilus beldingi) are routinely shot in California, Nevada, and Oregon across habitats that overlap with breeding avian scavengers. Ground squirrels shot with lead (Pb)-based bullets may pose a risk to avian scavengers if they consume carcasses containing Pb fragments. To assess the potential risk to breeding avian scavengers we developed a model to estimate the number, mass, and distribution of Pb fragments in shot ground squirrels using radiographic images. Eighty percent of shot carcasses contained detectible Pb fragments with an average of 38.6 mg of Pb fragments. Seven percent of all carcasses contained Pb fragment masses exceeding a lethal dose for a model raptor nestling (e.g. American kestrel Falco sparverius). Bullet type did not influence the number of fragments in shot ground squirrels, but did influence the mass of fragments retained. Belding’s ground squirrels shot with .17 Super Mag and unknown ammunition types contained over 28 and 17 times more mass of Pb fragments than those shot with .22 solid and .22 hollow point bullets, respectively. Ground squirrel body mass was positively correlated with both the number and mass of Pb fragments in carcasses, increasing on average by 76% and 56% respectively across the range of carcass masses. Although the mass of Pb retained in ground squirrel carcasses was small relative to the original bullet mass, avian scavenger nestlings that frequently consume shot ground squirrels may be at risk for Pb-induced effects (e.g., physiology, growth, or survival). Using modeling efforts we found that if nestling golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), and Swainson’s hawks (B. swainsoni) consumed shot ground squirrels proportionately to the nestling’s mass, energy needs, and diet, 100% of the nestling period would exceed a 50% reduction in delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase production threshold, the last 13-27% of the nestling stage would exceed a reduced growth rate threshold, but no nestlings would be expected to exceed a level of Pb ingestion that would be lethal.
Wind power is a major candidate in the search for clean, renewable energy. Beyond the technical and economic challenges of wind energy development are environmental issues that may restrict its growth. Avian fatalities due to collisions with rotating turbine blades are a leading concern and there is considerable uncertainty surrounding avian collision risk at wind facilities. This uncertainty is not reflected in many models currently used to predict the avian fatalities that would result from proposed wind developments. We introduce a method to predict fatalities at wind facilities, based on pre-construction monitoring. Our method can directly incorporate uncertainty into the estimates of avian fatalities and can be updated if information on the true number of fatalities becomes available from post-construction carcass monitoring. Our model considers only three parameters: hazardous footprint, bird exposure to turbines and collision probability. By using a Bayesian analytical framework we account for uncertainties in these values, which are then reflected in our predictions and can be reduced through subsequent data collection. The simplicity of our approach makes it accessible to ecologists concerned with the impact of wind development, as well as to managers, policy makers and industry interested in its implementation in real-world decision contexts. We demonstrate the utility of our method by predicting golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) fatalities at a wind installation in the United States. Using pre-construction data, we predicted 7.48 eagle fatalities year-1 (95% CI: (1.1, 19.81)). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses the 80th quantile (11.0 eagle fatalities year-1) in their permitting process to ensure there is only a 20% chance a wind facility exceeds the authorized fatalities. Once data were available from two-years of post-construction monitoring, we updated the fatality estimate to 4.8 eagle fatalities year-1 (95% CI: (1.76, 9.4); 80th quantile, 6.3). In this case, the increased precision in the fatality prediction lowered the level of authorized take, and thus lowered the required amount of compensatory mitigation.
Increasing development across the western United States (USA) elevates concerns about effects on wildlife resources; the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is of special concern in this regard. Knowledge of golden eagle abundance and distribution across the western USA must be improved to help identify and conserve areas of major importance to the species. We used distance sampling and visual mark-recapture procedures to estimate golden eagle abundance from aerial line-transect surveys conducted across four Bird Conservation Regions in the western USA between 15 August and 15 September in 2006-2010, 2012, and 2013. To assess golden eagle-habitat relationships at this scale, we modeled counts of golden eagles seen during surveys in 2006-2010, adjusted for probability of detection, and used land cover and other environmental factors as predictor variables within 20-km2 sampling units randomly selected from survey transects. We found evidence of positive relationships between intensity of use by golden eagles and elevation, solar radiation, and mean wind speed, and of negative relationships with the proportion of landscape classified as forest or as developed. The model accurately predicted habitat use observed during surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013. We used the model to construct a map predicting intensity of use by golden eagles during late summer across our ~2 million-km2 study area. The map can be used to help prioritize landscapes for conservation efforts, identify areas where mitigation efforts may be most effective, and identify regions for additional research and monitoring. In addition, our map can be used to develop region-specific (e.g., state-level) density estimates based on the latest information on golden eagle abundance from a late-summer survey and aid designation of geographic management units for the species.
Studies of multiple taxa across broad-scales suggest that species distributions are shifting poleward in response to global climate change. Recognizing the influence of distribution shifts on population indices will be an important part of interpreting trends within management units because current practice often assumes that changes in local populations reflect local habitat conditions. However, the individual- and population-level processes that drive distribution shifts may occur across a large, regional scale and have little to do with the habitats within the management unit. We examined the latitudinal center of abundance for the winter distributions of six western North America raptor species using Christmas Bird Counts from 1975-2011. Also, we considered whether population indices within western North America Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs) were explained by distribution shifts. All six raptors had significant poleward shifts in their wintering distributions over time. Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) and Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) showed the fastest rate of change, with 8.41 km yr(-1) and 7.74 km yr(-1) shifts, respectively. Raptors may be particularly responsive to warming winters because of variable migration tendencies, intraspecific competition for nesting sites that drives males to winter farther north, or both. Overall, 40% of BCR population trend models were improved by incorporating information about wintering distributions; however, support for the effect of distribution on BCR indices varied by species with Rough-legged Hawks showing the most evidence. These results emphasize the importance of understanding how regional distribution shifts influence local-scale population indices. If global climate change is altering distribution patterns, then trends within some management units may not reflect changes in local habitat conditions. The methods used to monitor and manage bird populations within local BCRs will fundamentally change as species experience changes in distribution in response to climate change.
Raptors are exposed to a wide variety of human-related mortality agents, and yet population-level effects are rarely quantified. Doing so requires modeling vital rates in the context of species life-history, behavior, and population dynamics theory. In this paper, we explore the details of such an analysis by focusing on the demography of a resident, tree-nesting population of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in the vicinity of an extensive (142 km2) windfarm in California. During 1994-2000, we tracked the fates of >250 radio-marked individuals of four life-stages and conducted five annual surveys of territory occupancy and reproduction. Collisions with wind turbines accounted for 41% of 88 uncensored fatalities, most of which were subadults and nonbreeding adults (floaters). A consistent overall male preponderance in the population meant that females were the limiting sex in this territorial, monogamous species. Estimates of potential population growth rate and associated variance indicated a stable breeding population, but one for which any further decrease in vital rates would require immigrant floaters to fill territory vacancies. Occupancy surveys 5 and 13 years later (2005 and 2013) showed that the nesting population remained intact, and no upward trend was apparent in the proportion of subadult eagles as pair members, a condition that would have suggested a deficit of adult replacements. However, the number of golden eagle pairs required to support windfarm mortality was large. We estimated that the entire annual reproductive output of 216-255 breeding pairs would have been necessary to support published estimates of 55-65 turbine blade-strike fatalities per year. Although the vital rates forming the basis for these calculations may have changed since the data were collected, our approach should be useful for gaining a clearer understanding of how anthropogenic mortality affects the health of raptor populations, particularly those species with delayed maturity and naturally low reproductive rates.
- Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology
- Published about 4 years ago
Renewable energy production is expanding rapidly despite mostly unknown environmental effects on wildlife and habitats. We used genetic and stable isotope data collected from Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) killed at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in California in demographic models to test hypotheses about the geographic extent and demographic consequences of fatalities caused by renewable energy facilities. Geospatial analyses of δ(2) H values obtained from feathers showed that ≥25% of these APWRA-killed eagles were recent immigrants to the population, most from long distances away (>100 km). Data from nuclear genes indicated this subset of immigrant eagles was genetically similar to birds identified as locals from the δ(2) H data. Demographic models implied that in the face of this mortality, the apparent stability of the local Golden Eagle population was maintained by continental-scale immigration. These analyses demonstrate that ecosystem management decisions concerning the effects of local-scale renewable energy can have continental-scale consequences.
Biologists routinely use molecular markers to identify conservation units, to quantify genetic connectivity, to estimate population sizes, and to identify targets of selection. Many imperiled eagle populations require such efforts and would benefit from enhanced genomic resources. We sequenced, assembled, and annotated the first eagle genome using DNA from a male golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) captured in western North America. We constructed genomic libraries that were sequenced using Illumina technology and assembled the high-quality data to a depth of ∼40x coverage. The genome assembly includes 2,552 scaffolds >10 Kb and 415 scaffolds >1.2 Mb. We annotated 16,571 genes that are involved in myriad biological processes, including such disparate traits as beak formation and color vision. We also identified repetitive regions spanning 92 Mb (∼6% of the assembly), including LINES, SINES, LTR-RTs and DNA transposons. The mitochondrial genome encompasses 17,332 bp and is ∼91% identical to the Mountain Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus nipalensis). Finally, the data reveal that several anonymous microsatellites commonly used for population studies are embedded within protein-coding genes and thus may not have evolved in a neutral fashion. Because the genome sequence includes ∼800,000 novel polymorphisms, markers can now be chosen based on their proximity to functional genes involved in migration, carnivory, and other biological processes.
Dispersal comprises three broad stages - departure from the natal or breeding locations, subsequent travel, and settlement. These stages are difficult to measure, and vary considerably between sexes, age classes, individuals and geographically. We used tracking data from 24 golden eagles, fitted with long-lived GPS satellite transmitters as nestlings, which we followed during their first year. We estimated the timing of emigration from natal sites using ten previously published methods. We propose and evaluate two new methods. The first of these uses published ranging distances of parents as a measure of the natal home range, with the requirement that juveniles must exceed it for a minimum of 10 days (a literature-based measure of the maximum time that a juvenile can survive without food from its parents). The second method uses the biggest difference in the proportion of locations inside and outside of the natal home range smoothed over a 30 day period to assign the point of emigration. We used the latter as the standard against which we compared the ten published methods.