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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

March 2016 Activity Highlights
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Topics covered in the March activity report.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s Sea Lamprey Research Board

Jon Amberg and Chris Merkes (UMESC) presented their proposals to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s sea lamprey research board March 3, 2016, in Ann Arbor, MI. 

Microparticle Manufacturing Workshop

Blake Sauey and Jon Amberg participated in a microparticle manufacturing workshop at the Southwest Research Institute, March 27-30, 2016, in San Antonio, TX.  UMESC has been experimenting with microparticle technology to deliver biopesticides to targeted aquatic invasive species (e.g., Dreissenid mussels and Asian carps).  This workshop allowed Sauey and Amberg to learn about new techniques that can be used in the microparticle manufacturing process and how best to apply them.

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI)

Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC) Meeting

Christine Custer and Thomas Custer (UMESC) participated in the 2016 annual Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOC) meeting March 2-3, 2016, in Dearborn, MI.  Christine presented a summarization of the first six years of their Great lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI ) project using Birds as Indicators of Contaminant Exposure and Effects. The data collected by this project are being used by the Environmental Protection Agency and States to assess the Bird or Animal Deformity or Reproductive Problems Beneficial Use Impairment (BUI).

GLRI Project 80: Birds as Indicators of Contaminant Exposure in the Great Lakes

Tom and Chris Custer, and UMESC's Quantitative Ecology Group met with Matt Etterson (EPA, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory) in La Crosse, WI, March 31, 2015.  Etterson is collaborating with UMESC staff on assessing the possible effects of legacy contaminants on tree swallow nesting success using Markov Chain modelling for GLRI Project 80 data, Birds as Indicators of Contaminant Exposure in the Great Lakes.


Explore the Incredible Work of Computer Conservationists

Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) was interviewed by Jennifer Huizen (Love Nature) for the story, “Explore the incredible work of computer conservationists.” Huizen is interested in how improvements in computer and software technology are making it easier and more cost effective for scientists to collect and analyze field data, and how the internet allows researchers to tap into additional data sets and is expanding their ability to ask bigger questions. Huizen contacted Thogmartin to learn how he uses data from sources like Cornell Ornithology’s eBird, the Christmas Bird Count, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to research to track animals with widespread populations and ranges.  The article is available online at  Love Nature is a Blue Skye Entertainment Limited production based out of London, England, which provides programing for US audiences through a partnership with Smithsonian Earth. 


University of Wisconsin-Madison

Nathan De Jager (UMESC) presented, “Modeling effects of moose browsing on forest biomass and composition under different predation scenarios at Isle Royale National Park, USA,” in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, March 4, 2016.

Partner Meetings

Mississippi River Basin/Gulf Hypoxia Initiative Conservation Design & Research Forum

Tim Fox (UMESC) presented an update on the decision support tool, “The Avian/Runoff Model (ARM),” at the Multi-LCC Mississippi River Basin/Gulf Hypoxia Initiative Conservation Design & Research Forum, March 1-3, 2016, in Indianapolis, IN.  The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center is creating ARM as a dual purpose geospatial application, designed to identify areas within a watershed where mitigation projects could be used to improve avian habitat while decreasing nutrient exports.

Dreissenid Mussel Research Meeting

Mark Gaikowski, James Luoma, Diane Waller, Bill Richardson, and Lynn Bartsch (UMESC) participated in a UMESC coordinated a USGS strategy and planning meeting to identify and prioritize USGS dreissenid mussel research activities, March 9, 2016, in Ann Arbor, MI.  Results from this meeting will be used to assist the recently established Invasive Mussel Collaborative Science Team, tasked with determining the current state of dreissenid mussel science, identify data gaps, and prioritize future dreissenid mussel research conducted by Federal, Provincial, state, and local governmental agencies, as well as academia institutions. 

Minnesota Invasive Carp Forum

Jon Amberg (UMESC) participated in the Minnesota Invasive Carp Forum, March 10, 2016, in Bloomington, MN.  During the forum Amberg provided an overview of the current work being conducted by USGS to develop control tools for bigheaded carps.

North Central Regional Aquaculture Technical Committee Meeting

Kim Fredricks (UMESC) participated in the North Central Regional Aquaculture Technical Committee - Research meeting, March 10-12, 2016 in Milwaukee, WI.  The committee discussed projects and made funding recommendations to the Board of Directors.

Great Lakes Pelagic Bird Management Meeting

Kevin Kenow (UMESC) participated in the workshop, “Informing Great Lakes Pelagic Bird Management,” sponsored by Great Lakes Commission, March 22-23, 2016, in Ann Arbor, MI.  The workshop was designed to bring together avian researchers, natural resource managers, NGOs, and coastal stakeholders to explore how waterbird data collected throughout the Great Lakes can best be served to support wildlife and natural resource management decisions in the Great Lakes.  Kenow will summarize USGS 2012-2014 waterbird survey efforts in his presentation, “Monitoring the distribution and abundance of migrating and wintering waterbirds on Lake Michigan.”


Past Climate Change vs. Potential Bird Distributions and Land Use in the United States

Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and James Cook University in Australia published research describing the race of species to keep pace with a changing climate. Climate change may drastically alter patterns of species distributions and richness, but predicting future species patterns in occurrence is challenging. Significant shifts in distributions have already been observed, and understanding these recent changes can improve our understanding of potential future changes. The authors assessed how past climate change affected potential breeding distributions for landbird species in the conterminous United States. They quantified the pace and direction of change for each species’ suitable climate space over the past 60 years, finding that potential breeding distributions for landbirds have shifted substantially with an average velocity of 1.27 km yr−1, about double the pace of prior distribution shift estimates across terrestrial systems globally (0.61 km yr−1). The direction of shifts was not uniform, with the majority of species’ distributions shifted west, northwest, and north. Many species experienced contractions along west and east distribution edges, and expansions along northern distribution edges. Changes were also reflected in the potential species richness, with some regions potentially gaining species (Midwest, East) and other areas potentially losing species (Southwest). However, the degree to which changes in potential breeding distributions are manifested in actual species richness depends on landcover. Areas that have become increasingly suitable for breeding birds due to changing climate are often those attractive to humans for agriculture and development. This suggests that many areas might have supported more breeding bird species had the landscape not been altered. This study illustrates that climate change is not only a future threat, but something birds are already experiencing.

Process, Policy, and Implementation of Pool-Wide Drawdowns on the Upper Mississippi River: A Comprehensive Synthesis

A multi-agency Water Level Management Task Force (WLMTF) for the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) has published a comprehensive synthesis of the process involved in evaluating water level management alternatives and implementing pool-wide drawdowns on the UMR, and provides recommendations for future water level management efforts based on 17 years of experience.  The WLMTF was established in 1995 as a technical advisory group for the St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with evaluating the potential of water level management to improve ecological function and restore the distribution and abundance of fish and wildlife habitat on the UMR. The article is available online at

Population Declines in Exotic Birds

Kevin Aagaard (UMESC) and Julie Lockwood (Rutgers University) published, “Severe and rapid population declines in exotic birds,” in the journal Biological Invasions. The manuscript focuses on the development of robust modelling techniques to derive inferences from citizen-collected data with special focus on identifying and describing spontaneous population collapses among populations of introduced species. The models are informed by data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Counts (CBC). Bayesian hierarchical models of observed abundance were built for 42 populations of exotic birds. Results indicated that many (~1/3) populations experienced spontaneous collapses (defined as 90% declines in less than 10 years that lasted for more than 3 years), and even more (>1/2) experienced severe declines that were not short enough or did not last long enough to meet the definition of collapsed used here. In an initial search for mechanisms, neither life history traits nor location effects were found to have any effects on the occurrence of collapses. Results found here were similar to those found in a similar study focused on native species, indicating that such severe, rapid population declines are no more or less prevalent among exotic species than natives. This suggests that the occurrence of these dynamics is perhaps inherent to population growth under certain conditions. The paper is available online at,

Novel Investigation into Local-level Population Patterns using Data from Broad-scale Monitoring Programmes: Dabbling Duck Example

Kevin Aagaard, Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC), Shawn Crimmins (WI DNR), Brian Tavernia (TNC), and Jim Lyons (USFWS), had their article, “Evaluating predictors of local dabbling duck abundance during migration: managing the spectrum of conditions faced by migrants,” from journal Wildfowl, featured as a publication summary on the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Programs website and spring newsletter. The paper is available at,

Scientific Meetings, Conferences, and Workshops

Midwest Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

Joel Putnam (UMESC) presented, “Dose Response in Cellular Assays,” at the 24th Annual Chapter Meeting of the Midwest Chapter of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, March 14-16, 2016, in Madison, WI.

Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee Meeting

Scientists from the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center participated in the 72nd Annual Meetings of the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee (UMRCC), March 15-17, 2016, in Dubuque, IA.  UMESC participation included a series of formal and invited presentations,

Informal project updates and technical discussions also took place in the following break-out meetings.


ARM – Avian/Runoff Model
AOC – Area of Concern
BUI – Beneficial Use Impairment
CBC – Christmas Bird Count
DNR – Department of Natural Resources
eDNA – environmental DNA
EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
GLRI – Great Lakes Restoration Initiative
LCC –  Landscape Conservation Cooperatives
NGO – Non-Governmental Organization
NPS – National Park Service
TNC – The Nature Conservancy
UMESC – Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
UMR – Upper Mississippi River
UMRCC – Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee
USFWS – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USGS – U.S. Geological Survey
WLMTF – Water Level Management Task Force

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