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School of Environment and Natural Resources


Prothonotary Warbler draws faculty member to Panama

Feb. 4, 2015
Chris Tonra, an assistant professor of Avian Ecology in the School of Environment and Natural Resources spent part of winter break in Panama working with colleagues and students on
study abroad through a Virginia Commonwealth University program focused on bird
ecology and conservation of coastal mangrove ecosystems. 
What drew Tonra to participate in this program is a special interest he and other scientists
and citizens share in the Prothonotary Warbler. In fact, he notes, the Prothonotary Warbler
is a “species of concern” in Ohio and on a number of watch lists nationally for conservation action.  
The Prothonotary Warbler (shown right), is a migratory songbird that specializes on mangrove habitats during the winter. 
According to Tonra, as birds migrate they face different threats throughout the year. While the Prothonotary Warbler spends its breeding season in Ohio, it migrates and winters in the tropical mangrove forests, which are becoming increasingly threatened by changing climate, urbanization, and development of vacation resorts.  Tonra’s previous research on migratory birds has focused on how the quality of non-breeding habitat for migratory birds can influence migration timing and condition, ultimately carrying over to limit success on the breeding grounds.  
Tonra is working collaboratively through the Prothonotary Warbler Working Group with partners from regional and national Audubon Societies, universities, and federal agencies in Panama, Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Together, they will formally investigate the linkage between changing wintering habitat and breeding in the Prothonotary Warbler.  He notes that understanding how individual birds are impacted by changes in the multiple habitats they occupy during their life-cycle, which are sometimes thousands of miles apart, is critical to conserving their populations.
Photo courtesy of Chris Tonra.
February 2015.