Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Ivory Billed Woodpecker: A New Paper

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Nature of Science, Endangered Species

Ed Hessler

Jilian Forstadt of WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR station provides an introduction to a recently published paper on the controversial question: extinct or not? -- the Ivory Billed Woodpecker (Campeplilus principalis). I am glad that they devoted some air time to this paper.

You will recollect that we are still waiting for an "official" determination by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on whether it is dead or still lives. Make no mistake about it, the question is not easily answered today for this species is  elusive and the current populations, if it exists is a small one. The USFWS wants to get this determination right for many reasons, one of which Forstadt comments on: future habitat protection.

Forstadt begins by  linking readers to a recently published paper "in the peer-reviewed journal Ecology and Evolution (link provided by Forstadt), the group detailed over a decade of evidence they say showed the bird in its native, bottomland habitat in the southeastern United States. 
I want to emphasize that the paper was peer-reviewed - reviewed and critiqued by anonymous experts, which represents an important entry level requirement on whether a published paper is to be taken seriously.
The paper provides an example of what advances in technology bring to scientific investigations as well as in suggesting new research.

Steve Latta, the report’s lead author and the director of conservation and field research at the National Aviary, said the collection could help keep the black, red and white species on the endangered species list. Latta directs Project Principalis at the aviary which has devoted resources, research and time on the status of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. The website represents a considerable effort.

Forstadt provides a link to the technical paper which I include here and then discusses the importance of documentation, standards of evidence and the implications of delisting for their habitat requirements. You will notice that some of the authors are observers - all are skilled and reliable - and I suggest you check all author affiliations. I was pleased that they were included as co-authors rather than merely attributing them. In addition each observer makes comments about their encounter(s). 

The paper is long but includes pictures and descriptions of behavior that suggests that these are Ivory Billed Woodpeckers based on characteristic behavior of this group of birds.

The paper follows these divisions and is illustrated.

-- abstract, 

-- introduction,

 -- materials and methods,

 -- visual evidence,

 --  audio recordings, 

-- trail camera imagery, 

-- drone videos,

 -- three results (visual, audio and trail camera imagery 

-- drone evidence,

-- discussion 

-- conclusion

This is the concluding paragraph.

"The report contained here is not the end of our efforts. We are encouraged and energized by what we have discovered and accomplished. We are optimistic that technologies will continue to improve our outcomes, including documentation through environmental DNA and other physical evidence. We believe that our intentional and systematic survey design is paying off through complementary lines of investigation. Our findings begin to tell a larger story not just of whether the Ivory-billed Woodpecker persists in Louisiana, but how it has survived and why its survival has been so difficult to document. Finally, we also believe that our methodologies can be translated to other sites, thus offering opportunities for additional documentation of the species. Our findings, and the inferences drawn from them, suggest that all is not lost for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and that it is clearly premature for the species to be declared extinct."

The debate will continue on whether a final decision is based on science, one that follows the evidence to its logical conclusion or a bureaucratic decision. 

Based on this paper, what do you think? I sit atop a fence hoping to be knocked off in favor of the bird.

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