Every year, nearly 100,000 adult sooty terns breed on the islands of the Dry Tortugas National Park. For the last half a century, researchers have worked with the National Park Service to catch and band over 750,000 sooty terns as part of an ongoing monitoring effort. Considered to be one of the longest and largest banding efforts, this incredible data set offers useful insights into the population dynamics of a migrating seabird. PhD candidate Ryan Huang and his advisor Dr. Stuart Pimm, have worked to estimate annual survival of the breeding colony and determine what anthropogenic and natural disturbances impact this population. Additionally, the team has used modern tracking technology to map the migratory path of this population for the first time. By pairing detailed, long-term banding records with telemetry data, Ryan has uncovered a link between hurricanes and sooty tern mortality. As sooty terns migrate through the Caribbean and to the tropical Atlantic Ocean, they do so during peak hurricane season. Depending on the timing, location, and severity of storms that birds encounter, as many as 50% of birds may die in a single year. With most climate change models predicting an increase in the frequency of category 4 and 5 hurricanes, Ryan expects that these sooty terns will continue to be impacted. You can read his publication on the topic here.
Tracking Birds and Storms
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