Researchers from Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment have received a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on piping plovers, shorebirds that have been listed as threatened since 1986.
Breeding populations of piping plovers exist in three distinct locations the Atlantic Coast, the American and Canadian Great Plains, and the Great Lakes but birds from all three populations use the Gulf shore as overwintering habitat.
Anticipating the spill's implications for the plover population, the Virginia Tech team began work on the grant application within days of the explosion that caused the oil spill. The first two boats and their crews left Blacksburg for the Gulf the day after the team received notification that its grant proposal had been funded. By the following week, a full team of 28 researchers was collecting data on site.
The team, from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, includes faculty members James Fraser, Sarah Karpanty, and Bill Hopkins, research scientists Daniel Catlin and Jonathan Cohen, and master's student Joy Felio.
When completed, the research will provide data upon which litigators can base settlements for the damage lawsuits resulting from the oil spill. In order to factor damage to plover habitat into these settlements, litigators must know whether and by how much plover survival and migration patterns have changed since the spill.
Fraser, however, would like to see the research used for more than just litigation purposes. "Our real hope," he said, "is that our data will be used for restoration efforts. We want our research to help people think toward the future."
The study will measure survival and migration patterns by comparing rates of survival and emigration in oiled and unoiled areas of the Gulf. Study sites will be limited to areas that historic
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