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Assessment of Population, Reproductive, and Health Impairments in Colonial Waterbirds Breeding in Michigan’s Areas of Concern

Description: Description: IMG_3160

Dr. Keith Grasman and his students process Caspian terns (Hydroprogne caspia) at the Confined Disposal Facility, Saginaw Bay, MI (June 2011).

Environmental Contaminants biologists from the East Lansing Ecological Services field office are partnering with Dr. Keith Grasman of Calvin College to investigate and monitor the effects of contaminants on the breeding population numbers, reproduction, and immunological health of fish-eating birds found in the Saginaw Bay and Raisin River Areas of Concern. While laboratory and data analysis are ongoing, initial results suggest significant immunosuppression (i.e., a dramatically suppressed PHA skin response) in young herring gulls, Caspian terns, and black-crowned night herons living on several islands in the Saginaw Bay AOC.  Rates of embryonic nonviability in herring gulls in the Saginaw Bay and Raisin River AOCs were higher than at reference sites, the Raisin River colony experienced a complete reproductive failure with almost no chicks surviving through mid June.  Furthermore, reproductive failures, reduced chick growth and productivity, elevated embryonic nonviability, and bill deformities characteristic of exposure to PCBs and dioxins have been observed in colonial waterbirds in the Saginaw Bay AOC .   


The study will provide additional data essential for a comprehensive assessment of contaminant effects on colonial waterbird populations, reproduction, and health at the two AOCs.  It also will lay the groundwork for future assessments at other AOCs with colonial waterbirds such as Fox River/ Southern Green Bay and the Calumet River.  These four AOCs are high priorities for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) because of the diversity and abundance of migratory birds, both currently and potentially in the future as contaminants are addressed and habitat is restored. 


Article and video of the colonial waterbirds project from summer 2011 can be found at:


Assessment of the Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproductive Problems Beneficial Use Impairment in Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern

The State of Michigan has six Areas of Concern (AOCs) with the Bird or Animal Deformities or Reproductive Problems Beneficial Use Impairments (BUIs).  The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE) AOC program has identified this BUI as having the potential to be assessed statewide using the criteria in the Guidance for Delisting Michigan’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern.  Environmental Contaminants biologists from the East Lansing Ecological Services field office partnered with MDNRE to determine the status of this impairment in the six AOCs and determine gaps in data sets to inform monitoring and restoration needs in the future years.


The study will lead to coordinating and implementing a strategic and systematic assessment of existing data, including literature review, and determining fish tissue contaminant levels protective of wildlife. This work will support the delisting of Great Lakes AOCs by providing a better understanding of the status of this BUI and the monitoring and restoration needs to conserveg, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.


Detroit River Area of Concern: Restoration of the Common Tern Population in the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Using an Adaptive Management Framework

Environmental Contaminants biologists from the East Lansing Ecological Services field office partnered with Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Detroit Zoological Society (DZS), and Michigan DNRE to conduct monitoring, research, and management that guides restoration of the common tern (Sterna hirundo) breeding population in the Detroit River and conduct a workshop to convene agencies, universities, and other scientific advisors to develop a management target and monitoring program for common terns in the Detroit River Area of Concern.


Throughout the 2009 and 2010 season preferred nesting habitat, productivity in different habitat types, and when and how predation occurs and how it relates to temporary,: with all but extremely high amounts (>70%) recorded for nests; hatching success was lowest in cobble and fledging was highest in the two complex habitats; and the goal of one chick/nest pair is not being met and is l nocturnal nest desertion of adult terns were measured on the Gross Ile Free Bridge pier in the Detroit River.   Results indicate that terns prefer sites with more diversity of substrate; used a wide variety of standing coverimited by specialist predators. Nocturnal nest desertion is longer and more frequent when predators are present. 


As part of the study, a Detroit River and Western Lake Erie Common Tern Roundtable meeting occurred on December 14, 2010 at the Detroit Zoological Society in Royal Oak, MI.  The Roundtable presented information on the common tern resulting in the drafting of a report titled “Establishing a Quantitative Target for Common Tern Management at Detroit River and Western Lake Erie”.  Tern managers and researchers agreed that the current colonies should be maintained at their present number of pairs, with increased numbers at Pipe/Willow Creek and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and expansion into new colony sites at Belle Isle and DTE Energy.   The interim goal for productivity is to reach at least 1.0 chick per nest across all colonies four out of every five years or a 5-year mean of at least 1.0 chick per nest across all colonies.  Tern management calls for removal of specialist predators and annual control of vegetation to maintain appropriate vegetation at artificial sites during the peak period of incubation.  Monitoring of nests and chicks (including color-banding) should occur regularly and follow protocols that are consistent with Great Lakes-wide monitoring efforts.





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Last updated: February 10, 2016