Mission: Conservation

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Scientific Papers

Conservation

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology advances the conservation of birds and other wildlife through scientific research, technological innovation, and teaching. We provide the scientific data needed by conservation organizations, government, and industries to make informed conservation decisions.

Trusted by conservation organizations, government, and industries alike, we work with groups that are often on differing sides of environmental issues, providing the scientific data needed to make informed conservation decisions.


Project Highlights

Habitat Fragmentation and the Florida Scrub-Jay

The Florida Scrub-Jay is a federally threatened species found in the few remaining patches of oak scrub in Florida. Habitat fragmentation, development, and fire suppression have contributed to a steep population decline in this species. By studying its genetics, we’ve learned about the species’ movement patterns between habitat patches. With this information, we can preserve what remains of the genetic variation in the species by translocating birds as well as conserving and restoring habitat.

Birds and Climate Change

Climate has an enormous influence on where birds survive and reproduce. In the short term, weather can influence the timing of migration, territory establishment, breeding, and egg laying. Over the long term, species have adapted to seasonal weather trends. We combine data from citizen-science projects with long-term weather data to examine climate's role in the changes we are seeing in the ranges of some bird species, as well as the timing and outcomes of breeding.

Reproduction, Behavior, and Climate Change

In collaboration with researchers at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, we are investigating how bird behavior may change in response to climate change. We study Black-throated Blue Warblers to understand how changes in weather and food abundance affect reproductive hormones, behavior, and the species’ long-term health. We also use recordings from our Macaulay Library to examine how song differences between populations may lead to splitting this species in two.

Noise Pollution in the Ocean

Marine mammals rely on sound to communicate with one another. Yet the ocean is so noisy from shipping, underwater energy exploration and development, sonar exploration, and other human activities that we are drowning them out, including the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. Our Bioacoustics Research Program is studying the responses of marine mammals to noise in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and in other areas to assess the long-range impact of this “acoustic smog.”

The State of North America's Birds

2016 State of North America's Birds reportThis 2016 report is based on the first-ever conservation vulnerability assessment for all 1,154 native bird species that occur in Canada, the continental United States, and Mexico. Scientists and partners from all three countries found birds that are adaptable and can live in multiple habitats are faring well. But the report also measured steep declines in species that inhabit coasts, aridlands, and grasslands. Species found over the oceans and in tropical forests are in crisis.

Saving Our Shared Birds

Partners in FlightTo protect North American birds, coordinated conservation action is needed among Canada, the United States, and Mexico. With colleagues from all three nations, we helped produce Saving Our Shared Birds: The Partners in Flight Tri-National Vision for Bird Conservation (May 2010). The report highlights the linkages among nations and ecosystems upon which billions of migrant birds depend, expanding upon the 2004 Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan for Canada and the United States.

Conservation Partnerships

Effective conservation requires partnerships with other academic institutions, agencies, non-profit organizations, industry, and citizen groups. The Cornell Lab provides leadership in national and international partnership initiatives, including the Partners in Flight Science Committee, species-specific working groups, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, and advisory panels for state and federal agencies. We share expertise and data widely for on-the-ground bird conservation and for decisions about conservation policy.

Golden-winged Warbler Conservation Initiative

Golden-winged Warblers are in steep decline caused by habitat loss and hybridization with Blue-winged Warblers. Our work with partners in the Golden-winged Warbler Conservation Initiative offers a comprehensive species assessment and strategy to manage habitat for this species and others that depend on early successional habitats such as young forests building, building on the work done by the Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project and the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group.

Protecting North Atlantic Right Whales

We use our underwater devices to record, monitor, and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales along the East Coast. Fewer than 500 of these animals remain. We use this information to understand how whales are affected by energy exploration, shipping, and other human activities. With partners, we have established the Right Whale Listening Network in Massachusetts Bay to notify ship captains to slow down when right whales are detected nearby, preventing deadly collisions.

Listening to Endangered Forest Elephants

In the dense forests of Central Africa, endangered forest elephants are difficult to study and protect because they are so difficult to see. We use automated sound-recording equipment to collect their vocalizations. This gives our Elephant Listening Project and local biologists valuable information about elephant numbers, movements, and communication. We use this information to improve our understanding of elephants and to protect their dwindling numbers from poaching and disturbance from logging and seismic energy exploration.

Capturing Animal Sounds

Cornell Lab scientists and engineers build and deploy automated recording devices that capture the sounds of animals on land or in the ocean. Underwater devices help decipher marine mammal communication, census populations, and gauge the impact of human-caused noise pollution. Land-based recording units monitor endangered birds, forest elephants, and other animals in remote and inhospitable places. Automated recording devices also document the calls of songbirds that migrate overhead at night.

Analyzing Animal Sounds

The massive amount of digital acoustic data gathered by our remote recordings devices created the need for a way to automatically scan all that data to pull out sounds of interest for further study. Sound analysis software created at the Cornell Lab, called Raven and Raven Lite, is used by scientists and anyone interested in animal vocalizations to display sounds visually as spectrograms so they can be measured and analyzed.

Monitoring Bird Migration

Most songbird migration happens at night, when it’s hard to detect. With durable, autonomous recording devices programmed to run for months at a time in remote sites, we gather information about the timing, location, and species composition of nocturnal bird migration. These audio recordings describe massive movements of migrating birds, information that is crucial for conservation planning.

The Macaulay Library Archive

The Lab’s Macaulay Library is the world’s largest online archive of natural sound audio and video recordings. The collection is always growing as both amateur and professional recordists submit their media online. Researchers, educators, and anyone, anywhere can explore the online archive. Listen to recordings of a given species, watch video of captivating animal behavior. Learn how you can contribute recordings.

eBird

eBird’s global reach allows birders to keep track of their personal lists and collects vast amounts of data that can be used for science and conservation. eBird can generate graphs, maps, and detailed analysis tools to help scientists better understand patterns of bird occurrence and the environmental and human factors that influence them. eBird is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.

Exploring Species Distribution

To explore where birds live and how their distribution may be changing, we developed a new modeling framework that incorporates time- and region-specific elements into a predictive analysis. The resulting spatiotemporal exploratory models (STEMs) can be used to study how populations respond over time to broad-scale changes in land-use patterns, pollution, or climate. Using these dynamic maps, we will also be able to monitor changes in migration flyways, key to developing conservation strategies for at-risk species.

Protecting North Atlantic Right Whales

We use our underwater devices to record, monitor, and protect endangered North Atlantic right whales along the East Coast. Fewer than 500 of these animals remain. We use this information to understand how whales are affected by energy exploration, shipping, and other human activities. With partners, we have established the Right Whale Listening Network in Massachusetts Bay to notify ship captains to slow down when right whales are detected nearby, preventing deadly collisions.

Building Capacity for Conservation

By teaching and inspiring students, scientists, and practitioners around the globe, we build capacity to conduct and apply science, monitor populations, and implement conservation solutions that protect biodiversity and support sustainable living. We also collaborate with universities, research institutions, and government agencies to bring knowledge, tools, materials, training, and support needed to protect and manage birds.

Research and Conservation of Swallows

The Golondrinas de las Americas project led by Cornell professor David Winkler, relies on an international network of students and professors who monitor the effects of weather and insect density. They also work to conserve poorly known, threatened species such as the Golden Swallow, Bahamas Swallow, and Tumbes Swallow. This work is made possible by the National Science Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Student Research at the Cornell Lab

We offer Cornell undergraduate and graduate students a wealth of stimulating project and a productive environment for postdoctoral scholars. The Cornell Lab is a nonacademic unit and does not award academic degrees, but our faculty regularly advise students through their joint appointments with Cornell University.

Orange-breasted Falcon Research and Conservation

The rare and beautiful Orange-breasted Falcon nests on steep, often inaccessible cliffs in South America and the size of its population is unclear. With support from the Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation, we are expanding the database of Orange-breasted Falcon records, including museum specimens, published articles, sound recordings, and observations from birders to better conserve the species.

Golden-winged Warbler Conservation Initiative

Golden-winged Warblers are in steep decline caused by habitat loss and hybridization with Blue-winged Warblers. Our work with partners in the Golden-winged Warbler Conservation Initiative offers a comprehensive species assessment and strategy to manage habitat for this species and others that depend on early successional habitats such as young forests building, building on the work done by the Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project and the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group.

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