• A management experiment evaluating nest-site selection by beach-nesting birds

      Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Nordstrom, Lisa A.; Schuetz, Justin G.; Boylan, Jeanette T.; Fournier, Joelle J.; Shemai, Barak (2018)
      It is important to understand nest-site selection in avian species to inform appropriate conservation management strategies. Studies of habitat selection alone, however, may be misleading unless the consequences for survival and reproduction are also documented....
    • A systematic survey of the integration of animal behavior into conservation

      Berger-Tal, Oded; Blumstein, Daniel T.; Carroll, Scott; Fisher, Robert N.; Mesnick, Sarah L.; Owen, Megan A.; Saltz, David; St. Clair, Colleen Cassady; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2016)
      The role of behavioral ecology in improving wildlife conservation and management has been the subject of much recent debate. We sought to answer 2 foundational questions about the current use of behavioral knowledge in conservation: To what extent is behavioral knowledge used in wildlife conservation and management, and how does the use of animal behavior differ among conservation fields in both frequency and types of use? We searched the literature for intersections between key fields of animal behavior and conservation and created a systematic heat map (i.e., graphical representation of data where values are represented as colors) to visualize relative efforts. Some behaviors, such as dispersal and foraging, were commonly considered (mean [SE] of 1147.38 [353.11] and 439.44 [108.85] papers per cell, respectively). In contrast, other behaviors, such as learning, social, and antipredatory behaviors were rarely considered (mean [SE] of 33.88 [7.62], 44.81 [10.65], and 22.69 [6.37] papers per cell, respectively). In many cases, awareness of the importance of behavior did not translate into applicable management tools. Our results challenge previous suggestions that there is little association between the fields of behavioral ecology and conservation and reveals tremendous variation in the use of different behaviors in conservation. We recommend that researchers focus on examining underutilized intersections of behavior and conservation themes for which preliminary work shows a potential for improving conservation and management, translating behavioral theory into applicable and testable predictions, and creating systematic reviews to summarize the behavioral evidence within the behavior-conservation intersections for which many studies exist.
    • Age-related patterns of neophobia in an endangered island crow: implications for conservation and natural history

      Greggor, Alison L.; Masuda, Bryce M.; Flanagan, Alison M.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2020)
      Theory suggests that the balance between unknown dangers and novel opportunities drives the evolution of species-level neophobia. Juveniles show lower neophobia than adults, within mammals and birds, presumably to help minimize the costs of avoiding beneficial novelty, and adults tend to be more neophobic, to reduce risks and focus on known stimuli. How these dynamics function in island species with fewer dangers from predators and toxic prey is not well understood. Yet, predicting neophobia levels at different age classes may be highly valuable in conservation contexts, such as species' translocation programmes, where responses to novelty can influence the effectiveness of prerelease training and animals' survival postrelease. To better understand how neophobia and its age-related patterns are expressed in an island corvid, we surveyed object neophobia in 84% of the world's critically endangered ‘alal?, Corvus hawaiiensis. Individuals repeatedly demonstrated high neophobia, suggesting that neither captivity nor their island evolution has erased this corvid-typical trait. Unexpectedly, juveniles were exceedingly more neophobic than adults, a pattern in stark contrast to common neophobia predictions and known mammalian and avian studies. We discuss the potential conservation ramifications of this age-structured result within the larger context of neophobia theory. Not only may the expression of neophobia be more complicated than previously thought but predicting such responses may also be important for conservation management that requires exposing animals to novelty.
    • An autonomous GPS geofence alert system to curtail avian fatalities at wind farms

      Sheppard, James; McGann, Andrew; Lanzone, Michael; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2015)
      Wind energy developments are increasingly proliferating as nations seek to secure clean and renewable energy supplies. Wind farms have serious impacts on avifauna populations through injuries sustained by collisions with turbines. Our aim was to develop new biotelemetric technologies to minimize collision risks, particularly for threatened and endangered bird species whose ranges overlap with current and future wind farm sites.
    • An experimental investigation of chemical communication in the polar bear

      Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Slocomb, C.; Amstrup, Steven C.; Durner, G. M.; Simac, Kristin S.; Pessier, Allan P. (2015)
      The polar bear (Ursus maritimus), with its wide-ranging movements, solitary existence and seasonal reproduction, is expected to favor chemosignaling over other communication modalities….These results suggest that pedal scent, regardless of origin, conveys information to conspecifics that may facilitate social and reproductive behavior, and that chemical communication in this species has been adaptively shaped by environmental constraints of its habitat. However, continuously distributed scent signals necessary for breeding behavior may prove less effective if current and future environmental conditions cause disruption of scent trails due to increased fracturing of sea ice.
    • Analyzing the past to understand the future: Natural mating yields better reproductive rates than artificial insemination in the giant panda

      Li, Disheng; Wintle, Nathan J. P.; Zhang, Guiquan; Wang, Chengdong; Luo, Bo; Martin-Wintle, Meghan S.; Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2017)
      ...Here we analyze 21 years (1996–2016) of giant panda reproductive data from 304 insemination events to determine relative success rates of insemination methods and evaluate management strategies. The birth rate after natural mating was 60.7%, 50.6% for combined natural mating and artificial insemination techniques, and 18.5% for artificial insemination (AI)....
    • Animal Welfare in Conservation Breeding: Applications and Challenges

      Greggor, Alison L.; Vicino, Greg A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Fidgett, Andrea; Brenner, Deena J.; Kinney, Matthew E.; Farabaugh, Susan M.; Masuda, Bryce M.; Lamberski, Nadine (2018)
      Animal welfare and conservation breeding have overlapping and compatible goals that are occasionally divergent. Efforts to improve enclosures, provide enriching experiences, and address behavioral and physical needs further the causes of animal welfare in all zoo settings. However, by mitigating stress, increasing behavioral competence, and enhancing reproduction, health, and survival, conservation breeding programs must also focus on preparing animals for release into the wild. Therefore conservation breeding facilities must strike a balance of promoting high welfare, while minimizing the effects of captivity to increase population sustainability. As part of the Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program, San Diego Zoo Global operates two captive breeding facilities that house a number of endangered Hawaiian bird species. At our facilities we aim to increase captive animal welfare through husbandry, nutrition, behavior-based enrichment, and integrated veterinary practices. These efforts help foster a captive environment that promotes the development of species-typical behaviors. By using the “Opportunities to Thrive” guiding principles, we outline an outcome-based welfare strategy, and detail some of the related management inputs, such as transitioning to parental rearing, and conducting veterinary exams remotely. Throughout we highlight our evidence-based approach for evaluating our practices, by monitoring welfare and the effectiveness of our inputs. Additionally we focus on some of the unique challenges associated with improving welfare in conservation breeding facilitates and outline concrete future steps for improving and evaluating welfare outcomes that also meet conservation goals.
    • Applications of animal behavior to conservation

      Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Greggor, Alison L.; Choe, Jae (Academic PressOxford, UK, 2019)
      Animal behavior can influence conservation outcomes, and can be used as a tool for diagnosing anthropogenic impacts and managing species’ recovery. Researchers from disparate backgrounds in animal behavior, most notably behavioral ecology and applied ethology, are using their research to contribute to conservation efforts, including reserve design, human disturbance, and reintroduction programs....
    • Assessing California's Relocation Guidelines for Burrowing Owls Impacted by Renewable Energy Development.

      Hennessy, Sarah McCullough; Wisinski, Colleen; Ronan, Noelle; Gregory, Chris; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Nordstrom, Lisa A. (California Energy Commission, 2020)
      Once common and widespread throughout the western United States and Canada, the western burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) population has declined to the point where the species is now designated as a Species of Special Concern in California. Their presence in development areas, including renewable energy facilities, necessitates an effective strategy for protecting them. This study is the first of its kind to test both passive and active relocation techniques with burrowing owls and evaluate their relative effectiveness with and without the addition of conspecific cues (such as acoustic playback of owl calls and imitation whitewash to attract the owls)....
    • Assessing the effectiveness of China’s panda protection system

      Wei, Wei; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Pilfold, Nicholas W.; Owen, Megan A.; Dai, Qiang; Wei, Fuwen; Han, Han; Yang, Zhisong; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; et al. (2020)
      ...Together these findings indicate that China’s panda reserves have been effective and that they are functioning better over time, conserving more and better habitats and containing more pandas. While China’s protected area system still has much room for improvement [4, 5], including to support pandas [16], these findings underscore the progress made in China’s nascent environmental movement.
    • Behavioral audiogram of the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca): Preliminary results

      Owen, Megan A.; Keating, Jennifer L.; Denes, Samuel L.; Hawk, Kathy; Boroski, Juli; Fiore, Angela; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2011)
      We used behavioral techniques to assess the hearing sensitivity of four, critically endangered, giant pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Study subjects included one adult male (age 19), two adult females (ages 5 and 19), and one sub-adult female (age 3)…. Hearing sensitivity data will enhance the understanding of how anthropogenic noise may impact both free-ranging and captive giant pandas.
    • Benefits of overwintering in the conservation breeding and translocation of a critically endangered amphibian

      Calatayud, Natalie E.; Hammond, Talisin T.; Gardner, Nicole R.; Curtis, Michelle J.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Shier, Debra M. (2020)
      At high altitudes, amphibians brumate (over winter) during the winter months, an adaptation that provides protection from harsh weather and minimizes metabolic demand when food resources are scarce. However, brumation in ex situ populations is often avoided due to concerns regarding slow growth rates, compromised immunity, and increased morbidity, and to accelerate growth and sexual maturation. Running counter to these ideas is the hypothesis that husbandry that mimics the environmental conditions under which a species evolved may benefit animal health and reproduction. This may be particularly critical for animals slated for release into the wild. Here, we evaluated the effects of brumation on juvenile southern mountain yellow-legged frogs (Rana muscosa) in a conservation breeding and release program. Growth measurements, (weight and snout-urostyle length [SUL]), were examined in three experimental groups: Nonbrumated, 1 or 3-month brumation. Postrelease survival was also analyzed and compared between nonbrumated and 3-month brumated frogs. This study indicates that brumated R. muscosa juveniles grow to sizes and weights similar to controls within 3 to 4 months following brumation. Mark-recapture models suggested that short-term postrelease survival was not lower and in fact, may be higher in brumated compared to nonbrumated frogs. Results of this study indicate that although brumation entails short-term costs to growth, this species possesses compensatory growth mechanisms following brumation which allow them to attain similar body size to nonbrumated conspecifics in time for the next winter and that for frogs destined for translocation to the wild, brumation could improve survival outcomes.
    • Building a new burrowing owl subpopulation through collaboration and translocation

      Wisinski, Colleen L.; Hennessy, Sarah M.; Marczak, Susanne A.; Mayer, D.; Nelson, T.; Nordstrom, Lisa A.; Rice, K.; Sin, H.; Stevens, Michael T.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (Virtual, 2021)
      The western burrowing owl (BUOW, Athene cunicularia hypugaea)–a California species of special concern–has experienced range-wide declines, including in San Diego County where only one breeding population remained by the 2010s. As such, local conservation goals include increasing the number of breeding sub-populations to guard against extirpation of BUOW from the county. A working group including government agencies, non-profit organizations, and biological consultants was created to carry out adaptive management and conservation planning in support of these goals. Through a systematic and collaborative effort, we identified Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve (RJER) as the first site for expanding the BUOW population. Site preparation techniques included vegetation management, targeted enhancement of the California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) population, and retrofitting/installation of artificial burrows. Population viability analysis utilizing 3 years of local demographic data predicted positive population growth from a small initial translocation population, and in 2018, we began translocating BUOW to RJER using a soft-release technique. Over three successive breeding seasons, we documented reproduction and retention of translocated owls, recruitment of their offspring, and recruitment of non-translocated owls. Here, we detail our methodologies and success metrics, and discuss leveraging our collaborative efforts to achieve conservation goals with limited resources.
    • Can science save the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)? Unifying science and policy in an adaptive management paradigm

      Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Wei, Fuwen; Mcshea, William J.; Wildt, David E.; Kouba, Andrew J.; Zhang, Zejun (2011)
      …Here, we review recent developments in giant panda conservation science and propose a strategic plan for moving panda conservation forward…. Specific threats, such as habitat destruction, anthropogenic disturbance and fragmented nonviable populations, need to be addressed simultaneously by researchers, managers and policy-makers working in concert to understand and overcome these obstacles to species recovery. With the backing of the Chinese Government and the conservation community, the giant panda can become a high-profile test species for this much touted, but rarely implemented, approach to conservation management….
    • Capturing pests and releasing ecosystem engineers: translocation of common but diminished species to re-establish ecological roles

      Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Montagne, J.P.; Lenihan, C. M.; Wisinski, Colleen L.; Nordstrom, Lisa A.; Shier, Debra M. (2019)
      Translocation of abundant but declining ecologically important species for re-establishing more sustainable ecosystem function is a neglected but promising form of conservation intervention. Here, we developed a translocation program in which we capture pests and release ecosystem engineers, by relocating California ground squirrels Otospermophilus beecheyi from areas where they are unwanted to conserved lands where they can perform ecosystem services such as burrowing and vegetation alteration. We accomplished this using an experimental approach in which some factors were measured or experimentally manipulated, while others were held constant. We translocated 707 squirrels and examined survival and movement patterns as a function of several translocation tactics and ecological factors. We released squirrels at 9 different plots with varying ecological contexts and at each plot experimentally manipulated post-release habitat using mowing, mowing plus the use of augers to establish starter burrows, and controls that remained unmanipulated. The most influential variables affecting short-term survival, dispersal, and long-term persistence were factors relating to soils and vegetation structure. Translocated squirrels had higher initial survival on plots where dense exotic grasses were experimentally altered, greater dispersal when released at sites with less friable clay soils, and improved long-term persistence at sites characterized by more friable soils associated with metavolcanic than alluvial geological layers. Squirrel persistence was also improved when translocations supplemented previous translocation sites than during initial translocations to sites containing no resident squirrels. Our results demonstrate how California ground squirrels can be successfully translocated as part of a larger objective to favorably alter ecological function in novel grassland ecosystems dominated by non-native vegetation. In broader context, our study highlights the importance of testing release strategies, and examining habitat variables and restoration techniques more closely when selecting release sites to improve translocation outcomes.
    • Chemical signals of age, sex and identity in black rhinoceros

      Linklater, W. L.; Mayer, K.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2013)
      Olfactory communication may be particularly important to black rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis, because they are solitary living and have comparatively poor eyesight but their populations are structured by inter-and intrasexual relationships. Understanding olfactory functions and processes might achieve better conservation management but their study in rhinoceros remains anecdotal or descriptive….
    • Chilled frogs are hot: hibernation and reproduction of the Endangered mountain yellow-legged frog Rana muscosa

      Santana, Frank E.; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Lemm, Jeffrey M.; Fisher, Robert N.; Clark, Rulon W. (2015)
      In the face of the sixth great extinction crisis, it is imperative to establish effective breeding protocols for amphibian conservation breeding programs. Captive efforts should not proceed by trial and error, nor should they jump prematurely to assisted reproduction techniques, which can be invasive, difficult, costly, and, at times, counterproductive. Instead, conservation practitioners should first look to nature for guidance, and replicate key conditions found in nature in the captive environment, according to the ecological and behavioral requirements of the species. We tested the effect of a natural hibernation regime on reproductive behaviors and body condition in the Endangered mountain yellow-legged frog Rana muscosa. Hibernation had a clear positive effect on reproductive behavior, manifesting in vocal advertisement signaling, female receptivity, amplexus, and oviposition. These behaviors are critical components of courtship that lead to successful reproduction. Our main finding was that captive R. muscosa require a hibernation period for successful reproduction, as only hibernated females produced eggs and only hibernated males successfully fertilized eggs. Although hibernation also resulted in a reduced body condition, the reduction appeared to be minimal with no associated mortality. The importance of hibernation for reproduction is not surprising, since it is a major component of the conditions that R. muscosa experiences in the wild. Other amphibian conservation breeding programs can also benefit from a scientific approach that tests the effect of natural ecological conditions on reproduction. This will ensure that captive colonies maximize their role in providing genetic reservoirs for assurance and reintroduction efforts.
    • Climate change and landscape-use patterns influence recent past distribution of giant pandas

      Tang, Junfeng; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhao, Xuzhe; Wei, Wei; Pilfold, Nicholas W.; Wei, Fuwen; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; Yang, Zhisong; et al. (The Royal Society, 2020)
      Climate change is one of the most pervasive threats to biodiversity globally, yet the influence of climate relative to other drivers of species depletion and range contraction remain difficult to disentangle.... We conclude that the panda's distribution has been influenced by changing climate, but conservation intervention to manage habitat is working to increasingly offset these negative consequences.
    • Climate change and landscape-use patterns influence recent past distribution of giant pandas

      Tang, Junfeng; Swaisgood, Ronald R.; Owen, Megan A.; Zhao, Xuzhe; Wei, Wei; Pilfold, Nicholas W.; Wei, Fuwen; Yang, Xuyu; Gu, Xiaodong; Yang, Zhisong; et al. (2020)
      Climate change is one of the most pervasive threats to biodiversity globally, yet the influence of climate relative to other drivers of species depletion and range contraction remain difficult to disentangle. Here, we examine climatic and non-climatic correlates of giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) distribution using a large-scale 30 year dataset to evaluate whether a changing climate has already influenced panda distribution. We document several climatic patterns, including increasing temperatures, and alterations to seasonal temperature and precipitation. We found that while climatic factors were the most influential predictors of panda distribution, their importance diminished over time, while landscape variables have become relatively more influential. We conclude that the panda's distribution has been influenced by changing climate, but conservation intervention to manage habitat is working to increasingly offset these negative consequences.
    • Coevolution of vocal signal characteristics and hearing sensitivity in forest mammals

      Charlton, Benjamin D.; Owen, Megan A.; Swaisgood, Ronald R. (2019)
      Although signal characteristics and sensory systems are predicted to co-evolve according to environmental constraints, this hypothesis has not been tested for acoustic signalling across a wide range of species, or any mammal sensory modality. Here we use phylogenetic comparative techniques to show that mammal vocal characteristics and hearing sensitivity have co-evolved to utilise higher frequencies in forest environments – opposite to the general prediction that lower frequencies should be favoured in acoustically cluttered habitats. We also reveal an evolutionary trade-off between high frequency hearing sensitivity and the production of calls with high frequency acoustic energy that suggests forest mammals further optimise vocal communication according to their high frequency hearing sensitivity. Our results provide clear evidence of adaptive signal and sensory system coevolution. They also emphasize how constraints imposed by the signalling environment can jointly shape vocal signal structure and auditory systems, potentially driving acoustic diversity and reproductive isolation.