News & Resources

Songbird Research Gains National Attention

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Jun 30, 2015

A joint research effort of the Au Sable Institute and Calvin College (Michigan) aims to determine the effects of noise pollution associated with roads and oil drilling on communities of forest songbirds, and to assess whether reductions in bird abundance and diversity in these noise-affected areas can be mitigated through the introduction of another acoustic cue: playback of songs recorded from other male songbirds. The first step of this research employed this concept – generally referred to as conspecific attraction – to assess the effects of playback on a community of songbirds that reside in low noise areas in the Au Sable region. In addition to being foundational for further work, these first year results offer much to the scientific community, and have been recently published in the journal, Behavioral Ecology, the official journal of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology and part of the prestigious Oxford Journal group. In summary, this research determined that conspecific attraction can be used to increase songbird establishment in an area for multiple species. Previous studies had used the technique for only single species. However, researchers also noted that some species who songs were not played back became less common within the research area. This suggests that biologist must carefully evaluate potential negative, as well as positive, impacts on a songbird community before conspecific attraction is employed as a conservation tool. The study, started in 2014 and led by Calvin College Associate Professor of biology Darren Proppe, is continuing in 2015 with playback sites now located along low to high use roads in Kalkaska County.

Au Sable has assisted Dr. Proppe in providing aid in selection of study sites, room and board for Proppe’s student research assistants, and mentoring of such students with other assistants in its research program through its courses on Research Methods. Dr. Fred Van Dyke, Au Sable’s Executive Director, noted, “We are extremely pleased with Darren’s success and recognition in publishing results of this important study in such a short time and with such a prestigious journal. When we publish research, our work serves and aids scientists all over the world, not just our own organization and our own students. Darren has produced a remarkable work in just the first year that will help scientists and conservation managers everywhere who have to deal with similar problems associated with noise pollution in forest environments.”