Birder's Guide

DEC 2018

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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17 December 2018 | Birder's Guide to Listing & Taxonomy historical and modern populations of not just two, but hundreds of species from across Mexico. We are using Lamb's col- lections as a baseline for what the birdlife of Mexico was like just prior to a major pe- riod of industrialization. We will compare this baseline to today, using citizen-science records from eBird to assess change in bird distributions and modern museum speci- mens to look for changes to birds' DNA. Sadly, documenting change in the bird- life brought about by humans was a use of his specimens that Lamb did envision. In his field notes, he often remarked on how collecting sites had changed: forests cleared, new hydroelectric dams, etc. One of his sites in Oaxaca, Mexico, now sits on the coastline of a vast reservoir. Another nearby site, once on a hilltop, is now an island in the middle of an artificial lake. Other sites have been swallowed whole by expanding urban areas. It's not all bad news. We made a re- cent trip to the Sierra San Pedro Mártir, a mountain range in northern Baja, Mexico, where Lamb collected extensively in the 1920s. We found the birdlife and for- est remarkably unchanged from Lamb's time. Old photographs allowed us to lo- cate monster pine trees whose fallen husks had never been carted away for lumber or firewood. After years of extirpation, Cali- fornia Condors soared overhead just as in Lamb's day. Most are captive bred, but many are hatched wild. In a high-elevation meadow, a small bird was one of the few harbingers of change. Every bleached granite boulder seemed to have its own Rock Wren, a spe- cies not collected by Lamb nor mentioned in his field notes. It is a nondescript bird, but not likely to have been overlooked. Rock Wrens like arid places. If the arrival of Rock Wrens in the meadow couldn't be pinned on forest clearing, perhaps their move into this habitat reflected global trends toward drier and hotter climates? Watching a pair of Rock Wrens dutifully feed their nestlings in a fallen log, it was hard to view them as an ominous portent of change. Once back home, we moved the bird collection, including all of Lamb's Mexico specimens, into cramped, temporary space while we remodel the Moore Lab and out- fit it with new specimen cases, public dis- plays, and special facilities for processing degraded DNA. More change. Part of a larger Genomics Center, this new, sterile lab will handle bird DNA as well as DNA extracted from another important college collection of snail and mollusk shells, as well as any other biological source mate- rial. Our goal, admittedly ambitious, is to jumpstart a global effort to apply museum genomics to the study of human-caused environmental change. With clear evi- dence about the value of museum collec- tions for both measuring and responding to the human imprint on our environ- ment, this is the kind of change that we, and the birds, can stand to see more of. n Moore Lab Director John McCormack looks over a tray of mostly Orange-breasted Buntings collected by Chester Lamb from all over Mexico over the course of 22 years. Photo © Day's Edge Productions n A Unicolored Jay (of the subspecies unicolor ) strikes a pose in Reserva de Biósfera Sierra de las Minas, Guatemala. Photo © Daniel Aldana

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