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News and events

News & events

Rice Rivers Center Researchers Collaborate with Fort AP Hill

December 2, 2015

Researchers Cathy Viverette and Lesley Bulluck, Ph.D. recently have been awarded federal funding through the Cooperative Ecosystem Study Unit (CESU), for avian conservation work at Ft. A.P. Hill. The research will provide significant opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students in VCU’s Center for Environmental Studies and Department of Biology to engage in important research on Prothonotary Warblers and Red-headed Woodpeckers. Both species have suffered long-term population declines associated with habitat loss from degradation and conversion of forested wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests, and are considered species of conservation concern. In accordance with the Sikes Act, the Department of Defense (DoD) supports monitoring, inventory, research and management of migratory birds on DoD lands, and works with private and public partners to identify and protect key habitats and species.

The first project entitled “Reproductive Ecology and Migratory Connectivity of Prothonotary Warbler Populations at Fort AP Hill, VA” examines the ecology and management of Prothonotary Warblers (Protonotaria citrea), a neotropical migrant songbird of conservation concern. The main goal is to understand distribution and breeding ecology of the Prothonotary Warbler population at Fort A.P. Hill, VA. Density and reproductive success of Prothonotary Warbler populations can serve as indicators of ecological integrity of bottomland forest bird communities and the forested wetlands they inhabit. The study will build on a preliminary survey of Prothonotary Warbler populations at A.P. Hill conducted in 2015, and serve as a complement and comparison to a long term VCU study of box-nesting Prothonotary Warblers along the Lower James River, approximately 50 miles south of A.P. Hill. Researchers from VCU are also participating in a working group studying Prothonotary Warblers across their migratory range, so can engage partners and leverage resources in addition to those provided by the DoD, as well as apply results of this research to regional and international conservation efforts. To that end, Dr. Rodney Dyer will be contributing to the project by quantifying population structure of Prothonotary Warblers across their North American range.

The second project is entitled “Baseline Surveys, Breeding, and Wintering Ecology of Red-headed Woodpeckers at Fort A.P. Hill, VA”. The research team will examine the conservation and management of Red-headed Woodpeckers, a federal species of conservation concern experiencing long-term declines across North American breeding and wintering ranges. Fort A.P. Hill supports both breeding and wintering populations of Red-headed Woodpeckers (RHWO), providing a unique opportunity to address the identified knowledge gaps of this species of conservation concern. Although not well documented, it has been hypothesized that Red-headed Woodpecker declines are due to range-wide loss of primary habitat, particularly open oak woodlands and savannas. The main goal of this work is conducting baseline surveys of Red-headed Woodpecker populations at Fort A.P. Hill, VA during the breeding and non-breeding periods, as well as investigating factors associated with reproductive success and dispersal. Specifically we will be looking at fire and timber management implemented by the military to facilitate training to see how these impact Red-headed Woodpecker habitat use and movement.

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