Effects of Wetland Management Strategies on Habitat Use of Fall Migrating Rails in Intensively Managed Wetland Complexes in Missouri

My doctoral research is looking at the effects of wetland management on migratory rails during their fall migration. I’m working on state and federal wetlands across the state of Missouri. We do nocturnal spotlight surveys on ATVs to try to observe the use of these wetlands by our five study species (Sora, Virginia Rail, Yellow Rail, King Rail and Black Rail).

Natural History

We’re also trying to better understand the timing of these birds during fall migration, as well as looking at the nuts and bolts of our survey method and trying to quantify the probability of detection with this method for each species of rail.

  • Accepted Fournier, A.M.V., Mengel, D.C., Gbur, E.E., Krementz, D.G. The Timing of Autumn Sora (Porzana carolina) Migration Wilson Journal of Ornitholog

Wetland Management

Starting in 2014 we established a three year crossover experiment comparing two water level manipulation treatments. Early flooding of moist soil wetlands (flooding beginning August 1) and Late flooding (flooding beginning September 15). We are going to examine if there is any difference in response by both rails and waterfowl to these treatments. Rails are surveyed during the fall (August – October) and waterfowl during the waterfowl hunting season (October – February). Waterfowl response will be examined by looking at both use (via weekly ground counts) and hunter harvest.

Methodology (Funded by the Arkansas Audubon Trust)

As it stands right now there is no tested way to survey for rails in the fall so we are using radio telemetry and spatial statistics to assess our survey methods and validate them so that others can use them to examine fall migration of rails.

  • In Press Fournier, A.M.V., Krementz, D.G. Nocturnal Distance sampling All-Terrain Vehicle Surveys for Non-Breeding Rails The Wildlife Society Bulletin

The Use of Stable Isotopes, eBird and Species Distribution Models to Assess Migratory Connectivity of Fall Migrating Rails (Funded by The Garden Club of America 2015)

Understanding the timing and connectivity of seasonal movements of individuals between habitats is essential for the effective conservation and management of migratory species. Documenting migratory connectivity is especially difficult for secretive species like rails. Rails are among the least studied birds in North America. I propose using stable isotopes, and species distribution models based on eBird data to predict the migratory connectivity of rails. Sora and Virginia are game species in North America who we hunt despite our lack of information about their population levels, trends and connectivity. Both species, along with the non-game Yellow Rail are thought to be declining, but the cause is unknown. The National Marshbird Monitoring Program will soon bring us actual population estimates and monitoring, but addressing any negative population trends to inform conservation and management without understanding rail connectivity will make science based management difficult. This project would be an informative first step at understanding the migratory connectivity of these species in the central United States.

Summer 2015 I worked with partners in Bird Studies Canada to collect feathers from Sora, Virginia and Yellow Rails. Fall 2015 I will collect feathers from rails during migration, to create an accurate map of the connectivity of migratory rails in Missouri. I will use their δD value along with species distribution models to document their migratory connectivity and compare it to the migratory paths of other wetland species

  • Accepted Fournier, A.M.V., Drake K.L., Tozer D.C. Species distribution models improve isotope-based migratory connectivity estimates of wetland-dependent birds Journal of Avian Biology

Article in the St Joseph Missouri Newspaper

Past Projects

  • 2016 Fournier, A.M.V., Welsh, K.J., Polito, M., Emslie, S. Brasso, R. Historic mercury exposure in the Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitans) in coastal salt marshes of North Carolina Bulletin of Environmental Contamination & Toxicology pdf

  • 2016 Fournier, A.M.V, Sullivan, A., Bump, J., Perkins, M., Shieldcastle, M.C., King, S. Combining citizen science derived species distribution models and stable isotope analysis reveals migratory connectivity in a secretive species, the Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) Journal of Applied Ecology (first two authors are equal) pdf

  • 2015 Fournier, A.M.V., Shieldcastle, M.C., Kashmer, T., Mylecraine, K.A. Comparison of Arrival Dates of Spring Rail Migration in the Southwest Lake Erie Marshes, Ohio, USA. Waterbirds 38(3) 312-314 pdf doi:10.1675/063.038.0313

  • 2013 Fournier, A.M.V., Shieldcastle, M.C., Fries, A.C. and Bump, J.K. Developing a morphometric model to predict the sex of Virginia Rails (Rallus limicola). The Wildlife Society Bulletin 27: 881-886 pdf doi:10.1002/wsb.323