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Article

Flock Size Predicts Niche Breadth and Focal Wintering Regions for a Rapidly Declining Boreal-Breeding Passerine, the Rusty Blackbird

1
Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013, USA
2
Department of Biology, Georgetown University, 37th and O Streets NW, Washington, DC 20057, USA
3
Institute of Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G128QQ, UK
4
Department of Biosciences, Durham University, Stockton Road, Durham DH13LE, UK
5
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Birds, Atlanta, GA 30345, USA
6
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Panama City Field Office, Panama City, FL 32405, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Deceased.
Academic Editor: Michael Wink
Diversity 2021, 13(2), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/d13020062
Received: 30 November 2020 / Revised: 28 January 2021 / Accepted: 29 January 2021 / Published: 4 February 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Boreal Bird Ecology, Management and Conservation)
Once exceptionally abundant, the Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus) has declined precipitously over at least the last century. The species breeds across the Boreal forest, where it is so thinly distributed across such remote areas that it is extremely challenging to monitor or research, hindering informed conservation. As such, we employed a targeted citizen science effort on the species’ wintering grounds in the more (human) populated southeast United States: the Rusty Blackbird Winter Blitz. Using a MaxEnt machine learning framework, we modeled patterns of occurrence of small, medium, and large flocks (<20, 20–99, and >99 individuals, respectively) in environmental space using both Blitz and eBird data. Our primary objective was to determine environmental variables that best predict Rusty Blackbird occurrence, with emphasis on (1) examining differences in key environmental predictors across flock sizes, (2) testing whether environmental niche breadth decreased with flock size, and (3) identifying regions with higher predicted occurrence (hotspots). The distribution of flocks varied across environmental predictors, with average minimum temperature (~2 °C for medium and large flocks) and proportional coverage of floodplain forest having the largest influence on occurrence. Environmental niche breadth decreased with increasing flock size, suggesting an increasingly restrictive range of environmental conditions capable of supporting larger flocks. We identified large hotspots in floodplain forests in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, the South Atlantic Coastal Plain, and the Black Belt Prairie. View Full-Text
Keywords: Black Belt Prairie; citizen science; conservation; machine learning; niche modeling; group size; habitat use; species distribution models Black Belt Prairie; citizen science; conservation; machine learning; niche modeling; group size; habitat use; species distribution models
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MDPI and ACS Style

Evans, B.S.; Powell, L.L.; Demarest, D.W.; Borchert, S.M.; Greenberg, R.S. Flock Size Predicts Niche Breadth and Focal Wintering Regions for a Rapidly Declining Boreal-Breeding Passerine, the Rusty Blackbird. Diversity 2021, 13, 62. https://doi.org/10.3390/d13020062

AMA Style

Evans BS, Powell LL, Demarest DW, Borchert SM, Greenberg RS. Flock Size Predicts Niche Breadth and Focal Wintering Regions for a Rapidly Declining Boreal-Breeding Passerine, the Rusty Blackbird. Diversity. 2021; 13(2):62. https://doi.org/10.3390/d13020062

Chicago/Turabian Style

Evans, Brian S., Luke L. Powell, Dean W. Demarest, Sinéad M. Borchert, and Russell S. Greenberg. 2021. "Flock Size Predicts Niche Breadth and Focal Wintering Regions for a Rapidly Declining Boreal-Breeding Passerine, the Rusty Blackbird" Diversity 13, no. 2: 62. https://doi.org/10.3390/d13020062

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