Frequently asked questions about Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring

What is Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring and what does it hope to achieve?

  • IWMM aims to enable decision-makers to ensure that non-breeding waterbirds have the right habitat, in the right place, at the right time. It is a multi-scaled conservation approach that integrates monitoring, modeling and decision support to optimize wetland management for waterbirds during migration and winter. The program focuses on waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds, and brings together managers, scientists and conservation partners from multiple regions.

Why does IWMM concentrate on waterbird management and monitoring during the nonbreeding season?

  • Monitoring over the entire annual cycle is vital for informing full management potential and developing decision support tools for waterbirds. While a number of monitoring programs monitor waterbirds and habitat during the breeding season, prior to IWMM, there was little public information about waterbird habitat use during migration.
  • Migratory birds depend on and use multiple sites over the course of a year, and migration habitat may be limiting some populations. Research has shown that female body condition on arrival at the breeding grounds affects reproductive success in several waterbird species, a key variable linked to population size.
  • The National Wildlife Refuge System, State Fish & Wildlife Agencies, other conservation organizations and private landowners own and actively manage many conservation lands heavily used by migrating waterbirds. For full life-cycle conservation, we need to know the conservation value of these lands for waterbirds, individually and collectively.
  • It is currently unknown what effects climate change will have on migration habitat quality and movement patterns of migrating waterbirds. IWMM models provide a platform for exploring ‘what if’ scenarios that capture possible future conditions.

What were the IWMM bird use and habitat monitoring protocols designed to address?

  • To explicitly document survey procedures, data collection, management and analysis, and reporting of results in a national protocol framework while preserving flexibility for the development of site-specific or regional surveys.
  • To inform management decisions by providing a method for rapidly assessing local habitat conditions and quantifying use of wetlands by waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds during non-breeding periods.
  • To standardize waterbird and habitat monitoring during the non-breeding period at a local-scale to allow for aggregation of data at larger scales.
  • To simultaneously track management actions and help managers evaluate how well they are meeting their management objectives at the sites they are managing.
  • To provide for an adaptive feedback loop that allows managers to adjust their management actions as they learn more about waterbird responses to management, or to address emerging threats.

Managers already know which birds and roughly how many they have – why should they use the IWMM protocols?

  • Although many land managers along the flyways already count migrating waterbirds, this information has been collected using multiple methods with varying degrees of documentation. Managers will want to use the IWMM protocol if:
    • They desire to standardize their waterbird counts and habitat monitoring.
    • They want to streamline the development of their own site-specific monitoring protocols, manage data and generate reports via an online database, and make their data publicly available while retaining access control.
    • They desire to document the timing and amount of waterbird use and habitat conditions for general purposes, such as developing habitat management or hunt plans, designating and monitoring closed areas, or responding to proposals for development projects adjacent to a managed area.
    • They want to link monitoring and management in an adaptive framework that gives them feedback on how well their management actions are meeting their management objectives.
    • They are not actively managing impoundments for waterbirds, but still want to track waterbird use and habitat conditions for passively managed wetlands with discrete spatial boundaries.
      • IWMM continues to develop models to identify the conservation value of existing and proposed conservation lands, including those that aren’t managed for waterbirds.

What value is IWMM providing to the National Wildlife Refuges who are participating in monitoring?

  • IWMM provides a national framework to facilitate the development of waterbird monitoring protocols specific to individual refuges and that is compliant with policy.
  • IWMM’s centralized database, part of the Avian Knowledge Network, supports station-level monitoring, simplifies data entry, and enhances decision making, data sharing and reporting capabilities.
    • Informal decision support (e.g., bird use days, migration chronology curves) and reporting tools are built into the database to inform management decisions and simplify the production of annual station reports.
  • IWMM has developed formal decision support tools for two refuges that help guide management of multiple wetlands to maximize refuge-wide habitat use by multiple guilds of waterbirds.
    • Monitoring data will be used to update these models.
    • Though currently limited, IWMM is exploring strategies to make this level of decision support more widely available to those interested in utilizing this approach.

How does IWMM provide managers with information about the value of their location in the bigger picture and increase understanding of how we should be managing across the landscape?

  • Understanding the value of specific conservation lands in a larger context is a significant challenge, but one that IWMM is addressing in multiple ways:
    • The centralized database provides a platform for pooling data and making basic comparisons (e.g., bird use, migration chronology) among stations that participate in IWMM.
    • IWMM has spatial modelers and statisticians investigating new approaches that we anticipate will increase the value of IWMM survey data beyond the local scale.
    • IWMM will continue to develop models to identify the conservation value, both individually and collectively, of existing and proposed conservation lands.
    • IWMM has developed a migration simulation model specifically to identify the value of individual lands during migration (see ques. 7).

What is the migration simulation model and is the bird monitoring data collected by refuges and other partners being used in this model?

  • IWMM’s origins trace back to the following questions: Where, when and in what numbers are migratory waterbirds using stopover habitats? Where should land acquisition and restoration activities be focused to conserve these important areas?
  • To determine a site’s potential contribution to survival, IWMM developed a spatially explicit model of avian migration. This migration model simulates migration as a function of caloric gains and losses.
  • To move birds across a continental landscape, the model incorporates GIS inputs (e.g., landcover, breeding and wintering range maps, population estimates, roosting quality, forage availability), and information from published studies of waterfowl food habits, flight speeds, travel distances, etc.
  • Currently the model is designed to move mallards through their spring and fall migrations; however, it is generalizable and can be adapted to model migration in other waterfowl, shorebirds and waders.
  • While the current migration model does not incorporate waterbird survey data, it continues to evolve.
  • Future land acquisitions considered by a variety of conservation organizations could employ the migration model to guide their decisions about where to conserve lands for migrating waterbirds.