JUNE 25, 2019
by Karen M. Bourque, Vermont Center for Ecostudies
In September of 2017, hurricanes Irma and Maria delivered a devastating one-two punch to Puerto Rico, causing significant defoliation of the island's forests. While the detrimental effects of these storms on human populations was well-documented, little was known about how the island's bird populations were affected - until now. A new paper published in PLOS ONE by Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) and colleagues compares occupancy of birds in forested areas across Puerto Rico during a winter before (2015) and shortly after (2018) the passage of these hurricanes. Using dynamic community models analyzed within a Bayesian framework, the authors find significant changes in species detectability, with some species becoming more readily detected after the storms and others becoming more difficult to detect.
In 2015, VCE biologists Chris Rimmer and John Lloyd (now of American Wind Wildlife Institute), along with José Salguero-Faría of Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña, conducted geographically extensive surveys across Puerto Rico to study the winter distribution of Bicknell's Thrush (Catharus bicknelli). Although focused on locating Bicknell's, the team recorded all avian species detected during its 211 point count surveys, for general insight into the assemblage of forest birds present on Puerto Rico during winter. Unbeknownst to the researchers then, their cross-species data would prove invaluable to assess the impacts of catastrophic weather on the island's birds.