Prothonotary Warbler by Michelle Davis
Jill Gautreaux
Influences of anthropogenic habitat alteration on stopover ecology of Nearctic-Neotropical migratory birds along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico

Coastal areas are highly productive for taxonomically diverse groups of organisms, and anthropogenic alteration of coastal habitats throughout the U.S. poses a critical threat to these ecosystems. However, actual ecological impacts of coastal development have remained difficult to identify and quantify. Nearctic- Neotropical landbird migration presents an intriguing opportunity to study responses of bird communities to coastal change as eastern landbirds utilize flyways leading them directly across the Gulf of Mexico. Coastal landscapes, and specifically the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, are potentially the most important links in the chain of stopover areas for eastern migrants as the first refueling locations for birds arriving in spring and last stopping locations before departure in autumn. Tension is created between importance of coastal landscapes for energetically constrained migrants and high development rates at these locations. With increasing evidence that stopover habitat may be limiting to populations, investigation of migrant response to human-induced coastal degradation and its role in migrant population dynamics is critical.

To examine influences of anthropogenic coastal alteration on migrant stopover ecology, I will establish four study sites of varying development intensities along the Mississippi coast east of Biloxi and measure quality of these sites as resting and refueling locations for stopping migrants. Weather surveillance radar will be used as an indicator of migrant concentrations, and ground surveys will be conducted to determine densities and species compositions. To measure refueling and fat deposition rates, I will observe foraging behavior and mistnet birds to obtain blood samples for plasma metabolite profiling. I predict that highly developed stopover sites are of lower quality and that birds utilizing these areas will demonstrate foraging behaviors and metabolite profiles associated with reduced refueling performance.


After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation Biology/Wildlife & Fisheries from Louisiana State University in 2007, I participated in many projects involving migration and anthropogenic pressures on bird populations that helped me to focus my research interests. For example:

  1. With the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, I traveled throughout the U.S. and Caribbean to obtain samples for stable isotope analysis for determing population connectivity of six warbler species. Additionally, I attached light-level geolocators to multiple species to log data on bird movement for reconstructing migration routes and determining wintering locations.
  2. With the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Wollongong University, I assisted in data collection for a study on impacts of changes in grazing and fire regimes on conservation management of semi-nomadic tropical savanna grass-finches including the endangered Gouldian Finch.
  3. With PRBO Conservation Science, I served as a member of the fall landbird migration research crew at the Farallones National Wildlife Refuge on Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI), California, to assist in gaining an understanding of migration patterns, bird use of stopover sites, and year to year variability in population trends.


The University of Southern Mississippi. Last modified: 11 June, 2009 . Questions and Comments?