Using citizen science monitoring data in species distribution models to inform isotopic assignment of migratory connectivity in wetland birds

Auriel M.V. Fournier, Kiel L. Drake, Douglas C. Tozer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stable isotopes have been used to estimate migratory connectivity in many species. Estimates are often greatly improved when coupled with species distribution models (SDMs), which temper estimates in relation to occurrence. SDMs can be constructed using point locality data from a variety of sources including extensive monitoring data typically collected by citizen scientists. However, one potential issue with SDM is that these data often have sampling bias. To avoid this potential bias, we created SDMs based on marsh bird monitoring program data collected by citizen scientists and other participants following protocols specifically designed to maximize detections of species of interest at locations representative of larger areas of inference. We then used the SDMs to refine isotopic assignments of breeding areas of autumn-migrating and wintering sora Porzana carolina, Virginia rail Rallus limicola, and yellow rail Coturnicops noveboracensis based on feathers collected from individuals caught at various locations in the United States from Minnesota south to Louisiana and South Carolina. Sora were assigned to an area that included much of the western U.S. and prairie Canada, covering parts of the Pacific, Central, and Mississippi waterfowl Flyways. Yellow rails were assigned to a broad area along Hudson and James Bay in northern Manitoba and Ontario, as well as smaller parts of Québec, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, including parts of the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways. Virginia rails were from several discrete areas, including parts of Colorado, New Mexico, the central valley of California, and southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the Pacific and Central Flyways. Our study demonstrates extensive data from organized citizen science monitoring programs are especially useful for improving isotopic assignments of migratory connectivity in birds, which can ultimately lead to better informed management decisions and conservation actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1556-1562
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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