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Au Sable, MDNR, and FWS Team to Begin New Research on Kirtland’s Warbler

Oct 20, 2015

          The endangered Kirtland’s warbler, one of North America’s rarest songbirds whose populations are concentrated in northern lower Michigan, has long been considered an extreme habitat specialist, using only 5-15 year old jack pines in dense stands as suitable nest habitat. As its populations have grown and recovered in the last decade, it has shown ability to reproduce successfully in red pine stands in other parts of its range. A new research effort, partnering the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, will compare nesting frequency and reproductive success of Kirtland’s warblers in both jack pine and red pine stands of similar age and density.            

            Working with scientific reviewers examining research ideas for the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (GLFWRA) Program, Fred Van Dyke, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Au Sable Institute, developed an experimental design for comparing the density of nesting Kirtland’s warblers and their success at raising young in experimentally planted jack pine and red pine stands. The reviewers encouraged Van Dyke and biologists of the MDNR, who had applied for funding to create more habitat for the warbler, to create a collaborative proposal, one in which the MDNR would take the lead role in creating appropriately placed jack pine and red pine habitat for the Kirtland’s warbler, while Van Dyke and his research assistants at the Au Sable Institute would handle monitoring and experimental analysis of nesting density and breeding success in the different habitat types. A new combined proposal, created by MDNR biologist Dan Kennedy, received approval and funding from the GLFWRA Proposal Review Committee, and the new study will begin in the spring of 2016.

            Recognizing the potential of the new study in determining if the Kirtland’s warbler can use a broader array of forest habitats, Dan Kennedy noted, “With the likely delisting of the Kirtland’s warbler as an endangered species in the near future, the need to broaden management approaches and their support from multiple sources becomes more important.” Fred Van Dyke, considering the opportunities for and potential value of such research said, “Determining whether the warbler can use more than one type of forest habitat is a first step in finding out if the land base for creating Kirtland warbler’s habitat, and the role of the forestry industry in supporting creation of new habitat, can be increased.”  

            The new study will provide opportunity for two students in Au Sable’s Undergraduate Research Program to gain experience in a direct scientific investigation of an endangered species, and in a way that may have direct benefit to that species’ conservation. Au Sable is honored to partner with the MDNR in this important new study in conservation research.