Archbold Biological Station, Biennial Report 1997-1998

Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens); photo by Reed Bowman


       Accomplishments 1997-98
  • Published 3 papers on Florida scrub-jays and 3 on other bird species (common ground-dove, blue jay, thick-billed murre) based, in part, on data from Florida.
  • Awarded a 5-year LTREB grant from the National Science Foundation to continue data collection on the ecology and demography of Florida scrub-jays.
  • Continued collection of long-term demographic data on Florida scrub-jays, now in the 30th year.
  • Presented invited lectures on scrub-jay biology and conservation to Tropical Audubon Society, Miami, 1997, and Tampa Audubon Society, 1998.
  • Delivered plenary address for 50th anniversary meeting of Kansas Ornithological Society, Lawrence, KS, 1997.

Bird Research

 Project Directors: Glen E. Woolfenden, University of South Florida; John W. Fitzpatrick, Cornell University
Research Assistant: Ralph G.S. Risch (1997, Cornell Univ. Funding); Arthur L. Fleischer (1998, NSF Long-term Research in Environmental Biology [LTREB] funding)
Graduate Student Interns: Elizabeth M. Borst, Villanova University; Kimberly B. Brand, Tina L. Gionfriddo, William J. Keating, Keith A. Tarvin, University of South Florida
Volunteers: Barbara C. Kittleson, Emily Minor, Wendy Reed, Janet A. Woolfenden
Outside Collaborators: Florida scrub-jay research: Peter Bednekoff, Eastern Michigan University; Joanna Burger and Michael Gochfeld, Rutgers University; Marco Cucco, University of Torino; Robert L. Curry, Villanova University; Hugh I. Ellis, University of San Diego; David C. Fleck, University of Guam; Mary C. Garvin, Oberlin College; Jill M. Goldstein, University of Georgia; Thomas C. Grubb, Ohio State University; Jack P. Hailman, University of Wisconsin; Douglas A. Kramer, University of Wisconsin; David B. McDonald, University of Wyoming; Peter E. Midford, University of Wisconsin; Bertram G. Murray, Rutgers University; Wayne Potts, University of Utah; James S. Quinn, McMaster University; Laura Stenzler, Cornell University. Research on other bird species: Wayne Hoffman, National Audubon Society, Florida; Howard P. Langridge, Lantana, Florida; Walter E. Meshaka, Everglades National Park; Jon Greenlaw, Cape Coral, Florida; P. William Smith, Everglades National Park

[Biennial Contents | Biennial 95-96

The thirtieth consecutive year of following a marked population of Florida scrub-jays came to a close last month and now we are preparing for year thirty-one (1999). On 15 December 1998 the 333rd monthly census of all jays residing in the demography tract was completed (see map [b], page 29). We have not missed a monthly census since the practice began in 1971. Our long-term study continues.

     Reproductive success during 1997-1998 was a study in contrasts. The 26-year average for two standard measures of reproductive success, namely pairs that succeed in having at least one young jump out of the nest (a measure of nest success) is 49% and the number of fledglings per breeding pair has averaged 1.9. In 1997 reproductive success was about average (51% nest success and 1.5 fledglings per pair). In contrast, 1998 was a disaster year, with the lowest nest success (26%) and mean number of fledglings (0.83 per pair) on record.

     For years we have been gathering data we think will be useful for explaining why some years are good and some years are bad for reproductive success. In addition to weather data, which are gathered routinely at Archbold, we have been systematically measuring insect populations and acorn production. We hope the analyses of these environmental data along with information gathered on reproduction and survival, such as variation in clutch size and time of breeding, will result in insights as to why the jays show great variation in annual reproductive success.

     These thoughts indicate that we remain convinced of the importance to ecology and life history theory of continuous, interdisciplinary study of individually-tracked organisms followed from birth to death in a natural habitat. We think our reports on the Florida scrub-jay illustrate many of the values of these long-term ecological data, especially in formulating and testing hypotheses in ecology and evolutionary biology, and quantifying the nature, scale, and effects of environmental variation. Our studies are used as early-warning signals about declines in an entire ecosystem.

     Collaborative Projects. With frequent visits by the numerous affiliates, sometimes all 10 desks in the Bird Lab are occupied simultaneously. Active projects, as yet unpublished, are numerous and include the following. With Jim Quinn we are using DNA fingerprinting to determine if scrub-jays are truly monogamous. This requires taking blood samples from the behavioral parents of nestlings as well as from the young themselves. With Dave McDonald and Wayne Potts we also are using microsatellite DNA to measure genetic distances between scrub-jay populations from various isolated ridges in Florida and comparing the results from different localities in western North America. We are using blood samples to determine the sex of Florida scrub-jays. With large samples of young birds of known sex we will be able to investigate whether or not death of jays varies with sex at different times in their life cycles. We know that as breeders the death rates are equal by sex. We are using our data on dispersal from natal territory to breeding territory to search for patterns associated with the fitness variables survival and reproduction. With Reed Bowman we are comparing the locations and fates of nests built in suburban habitats with those in the natural habitats at Archbold. With Ron Mumme we are comparing survival and reproduction of scrub-jays at Archbold whose territories are adjacent to a high-speed road with territories from interior portions of the Station. With Bob Curry we are embarking on the extensive investigation of relationships between the environmental factors weather and food and the demographic factors of clutch size, duration of breeding, and nesting success. Jack Hailman and Woolfenden continue to peck away at writing an ethogram of the species. Peter Midford is writing up his results that test the learning ability of the jays. Peter Bednekoff continues his field work on sentinel behavior, Hugh Ellis continues his field work on rates of energy expenditure, and Wendy Reed on egg-size inheritance. Emily Minor (undergraduate honors student at Univ. South Florida) is analyzing data in the files on molt and breeding status of young females.

     Articles published on scrub-jays in 1997–98 (see Appendix A & Appendix B) include a paper in the Journal of Chemical Ecology that presents information on scrub-jay caching behavior and how this is affected by acorns from different species of oaks (Fleck and Woolfenden), a paper in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology that reports on the relationships of parents and stepparents toward natal offspring (Goldstein, Woolfenden, and Hailman), and a paper in The Condor reporting on the use of a method known as ptilochronology, which measures nutritional condition, to assess territory quality in the jays (Grubb, Woolfenden, and Fitzpatrick).

     Other ornithological projects. The sign on the Bird Lab reads "Ornithology Laboratory," and the title continues to be justified. Blue jays were studied intensively for several years, especially by Keith Tarvin (see Student Research) and Mary Garvin, both of whom have earned their Ph.D. degrees and moved on. A paper in The Condor describes dominance and aggressive behavior of blue jays (Tarvin and Woolfenden). Curt Adkisson continues his investigations on acorn dispersal by blue jays. The nesting chronology of the common ground-dove is the subject of a paper in the Journal of Field Ornithology (Bowman and Woolfenden). Nest records from Archbold were a major contribution to the data analyzed for this paper. During 1997–98 two notes appeared clarifying the status in Florida of certain birds: one on the thick-billed murre, a North Atlantic seabird (Florida Field Naturalist, Langridge and Woolfenden), and another on the hermit thrush, which remains known only as a winter visitor (Eagle’s View, Woolfenden and Bowman), a previous report to the contrary.

     Valuable bird specimens continue to accumulate in the research and teaching collections housed at Archbold Biological Station. At present, the collections include Florida specimens for more than 74% of the species recorded from the state. Wayne Hoffman, Bob Duncan, Bob Sargent, Ron Smith, and Mike McMillian contributed to these valuable reference materials.

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Archbold Biological Station, 4 April 2000
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