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Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario
Newsletter No. 21, November 2020
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Title image_BECO News
In this newsletter, we feature new published research, case studies of bobolink conservation on farms, and an introduction into a project about the loss of grasslands in Ontario.
Two new bobolink research publications!
Female and male bobolinks_Zoe Lebrun-Southcott
Female and male bobolinks in a restored grassland at the Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
Bobolink nest success
Monica Fromberger, who recently completed a Master's degree at Trent University, worked with BECO over two field seasons to monitor bobolink nests in various land-cover types along with other BECO team members. Combining previous data collected by BECO and other Trent University graduate students—totaling 463 bobolink nests—Monica's research assessed several factors that might be influencing nest survival in pastures, late-cut hayfields, fallow fields, and restored grasslands. We are excited to share the news that this research was recently published in Avian Conservation and Ecology.
Read the article →
2018 BECO study site_ Monica Fromberger
A farm in Wellington County, home to many bobolinks and other grassland bird species and one of BECO's 2018 study sites.
Photo: Monica Fromberger
Monitoring bobolink stewardship
Our research on estimating bobolink abundance was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Field Ornithology. This study originated in 2017 as an effort to better understand the efficacy of various field survey methods and how they can be used to assess the impact of conservation actions. We compared data gathered from low-intensity surveys (i.e., transect surveys and point counts) to data from more labour-intensive field methods (i.e., spot mapping of territories and nest monitoring) to evaluate what information these low-intensity surveys can provide. This type of information is crucial for designing monitoring programs to assess the impact of conservation actions, for example estimating the number of bobolink breeding territories benefiting from conservation actions on farms enrolled in a stewardship program.
Read the abstract →
To read the full article, you can request a free copy from ResearchGate.
New resource: Case studies of bobolink conservation on farms
Because of COVID-19, our team spent less time in the field this year than expected. As a result, there was time to tackle some other projects.

Ryan Hill, one of our field biologists, took on the task of developing communication materials to showcase some of BECO's past projects. The result was three case studies featuring different conservation actions that can be implemented on farms to support nesting bobolinks. Each case study is based on a collaboration with one or more farms.
Farm operations across southern Ontario are diverse and implementing conservation actions to support grassland birds is challenging because they often involve trade-offs in production or may not be compatible with some farm management systems. The goal of these case studies is not to provide simple one-size-fits-all conservation recommendations, but to provide real life examples of successful conservation projects to inform and inspire others to take action on their properties to protect bobolink and other grassland bird nests.
See the case studies →
Grassland loss in southern Ontario
Grassland loss and gain_2011 to 2019_Annual Crop Inventory Data
Grassland in 2011 (a), Grassland in 2019 (b), Grassland loss 2011-2019 (c), and Grassland gain 2011-2019 (d). Map by: Octavia Mahdiyan, BECO. Data source: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Annual Crop Inventory.
The location of grassland is dynamic in Ontario. Most grassland in Ontario is agricultural. Some of these hayfields and pastures have been grassland for decades, and will likely remain so; others may change frequently due to crop rotation. In addition, each year some grassland is converted permanently to row crops or other landcover types and new grasslands are planted. The top two maps in the image above show grassland in southern Ontario in 2011 and 2019. The maps on the bottom show the change in grassland cover from 2011 to 2019; areas that are no longer grassland are shown on the left (in red), compared to new grassland on the right (in purple).

Our preliminary results indicate that the amount of grassland in southern Ontario has decreased by ~20% over the last decade. It appears grassland is primarily being converted to soy beans and corn, and lost to urban development. Additionally, a somewhat surprising amount of land that was grassland in 2011 is now classified as forest, which may be partially explained by a focus on tree planting as one strategy to address climate change. Although conversion of grassland to row crops and urban areas is a net loss in wildlife habitat, conversion of grassland to forest is a loss for grassland species but a benefit for forest-dwelling species, leading to complicated questions about conservation priorities.

Octavia Mahdiyan and Xuan Zhang, BECO Field Biologists, spent a lot of time this summer assembling data on the changing grassland landscape in Ontario and factors that may be influencing grassland loss. The maps above form the starting point of our investigation into the story of grassland loss over the last decade. Over the next several months, we will continue this research to look for patterns that could help explain why grassland is disappearing and to investigate how the changing distribution of grassland in southern Ontario may be affecting bird species of conservation concern. The loss of grassland bird nesting habitat in Ontario is one of the key factors influencing grassland bird populations declines; understanding more about where and why we are losing Ontario's grasslands is vital.
Thanks to our 2020 field team for all of their hard work on these two projects!
Grassland loss funding statement:
This project has received funding support from the Government of Ontario. Such support does not indicate endorsement by the Government of Ontario of the contents of this material.
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