Birds in Human Landscapes
This investigation focuses on examining the impacts that humans may be having on a select group of bird species. The ultimate goal is to evaluate the connections between bird behavior, habitat needs, and factors involved in shifting population trends. more ...
To investigate the interplay between a species’ natural behavior and habitat needs, and to analyze how land use change may impact species abundance.
Students will take the perspective of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists investigating bird species found on a site slated for development. Students will use a variety of resources to assess the natural history of the selected species and the impact of development on populations. Resources include online databases and other websites and scientific literature.
- How are human impacts on the environment impacting wildlife?
- How do changes in species abundance (positive or negative) impact a particular ecosystem?
- Why does biodiversity loss matter? (or, Why is species conservation important?)
- How do we decide what species to protect?
- How do the costs and benefits of species protection impact conservation decisions? In other words, do conflicts arise between the various stakeholders (i.e., biologists vs. developers vs. policy makers)
Students will be able to:
- Establish habitat requirements and population trends of a target species
- Relate bird behaviors to their habitat needs, shifting population trends, and other factors
- Describe procedures for biodiversity monitoring in general terms
- Use online scientific databases to access up-to-date population information
- Examine the complexities associated with species conservation
- Describe the purpose and contents of environmental impact statements
- Computers with Microsoft Office (PowerPoint)
- Internet access (see Online Resources below)
- Access to online library resources (e.g., peer-reviewed journals, the Birds of North America Online)
To prepare students, instructors should:
- introduce students to basic concepts associated with population trends
- introduce students to online population databases (see Instructor Guide for details)
- review how to access peer-reviewed journals from online library resources
- provide students with a basic outline of how to use PowerPoint (if necessary)
This lesson will likely take a minimum of 2-3 weeks to complete.
New York State and some Canadian provinces have completed two separate Breeding Bird Atlases, which can be used to compare bird species abundance at two points in time. For information on accessing the online version of these resources, as well as other web resources, please see the full, downloadable Instructor Guide.
- Begin a discussion with the students about a general or specific scenario when human development and wildlife needs have come into conflict. Ask the students questions like, How do we decide if a species is at risk? What types of evidence do biologists use to monitor an area for evidence of a species presence? How can you find out about the habitat requirements of a certain species?
- Give a brief introduction of the goals, methods, and status of the Breeding Bird Atlas project in New York State (or another project whose data you want to have students explore). You may wish to have the students explore how to access data from the resource now, or you may wait until you have introduced the case study that follows.
- The instructor will determine the area that will be impacted by development. Instructors may select one example of land change for the entire class, or assign a unique impact area to each student group. Group size should not exceed 4 students to maximize involvement. It may also be interesting to take advantage of other university resources by acquiring information from an urban development department for decision-making details in the development process. For examples of the types of land changes/human impacts that can occur, please see the Instructor Guide.
- Any number of bird species can be used for the exercise. Suggested species are listed in the Instructor Guide, although the instructor should be careful to choose a species that is appropriate for the land area chosen. The instructor may also choose to select species that are either declining or increasing in number since some species may actually benefit from certain land use changes.
- Students should initiate the project by answering a series of questions. Depending on the instructor goals, students could be involved in a discussion to co-create this list of questions, either as a large class or in their small groups, or you may choose to provide a list of questions you want students to answer. For suggestions, see the full Instructor Guide.
- Students will produce a final product that will consist of a presentation to their peers preferably in PowerPoint. The tone of the presentation should be that of scientists presenting to other scientists. Students should identify the basic biological needs of their species, identify population trends based on population databases, and identify the likely responses to habitat change. Evidence must be supported with scientific references. The length of the presentation will depend on how many groups there are – this is up to the instructor’s discretion. However, 15 minutes is a suggested minimum.
Depending on your learning objectives and available time, you may wish to combine this activity with a unit about Environmental Impact Statements. Helpful resources and information are available from: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/basics/nepa.html.
You might choose to have the students peer review one another’s presentations, either by handing out a grading rubric you have selected, or by involving the class in a discussion about peer review and inviting them to select the criteria by which presentations should be judged. If possible, have this discussion or provide these criteria before students have embarked upon creation of their PowerPoint presentations.
You can download pdf versions of full Instructor Guide and Student Sheets or add a comment on this investigation by creating a user account below. If you have more detailed feedback or questions about this investigation, or would like to obtain Microsoft Word versions of the documents, or full-resolution PowerPoints, please Contact Us.