Examining changes in Waterfowl Diversity and Climate Change

Jon Sweetman
North Dakota State University-Main Campus, Biological Sciences
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: May 15, 2019


Students will calculate and compare long-term trends in regional diversity based on online annual survey data of breeding waterfowl population data (available from the USFWS). They will make predictions on how changes in water availability might impact diversity, and compare changes in the number of ponds to alpha diversity estimates.
Students will practice basic data manipulation and analyses skills, calculate species diversity descriptors and make predictions on how climate variability impacts diversity using online data.

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Learning Goals

- explore how species diversity can be used as a descriptor of community structure
- Understand how changes in climate and hydrology might impact communities
- Analyze long-term data with understanding of statistical differences, biological relevance, and sources of variation
- Develop rudimentary skills for statistics and visualization

Context for Use

The activity is geared towards intermediate/senior level ecology students. It could be completed in two 50 minute lecture periods or a lab. Students would need 1-2 hours outside of class to do background reading and complete assignments

Students would have been introduced to R, scripting, and basic data manipulation earlier in the course, and would have some rudimentary skills in analyses. This activity was developed for a General Introductory Ecology course, and would be introduced in the section on community ecology.

The current activity looks at trends in local (alpha) diversity, the activity could be adapted to include other measures, including examining beta-diversity

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity is designed as a jigsaw-style group activity. A step-by-step outline, and student questions for each step will be developed.

1. Pre-class reading
U.S.FishandWildlifeService.2018.Waterfowlpopulationstatus,2018.U.S.DepartmentoftheInterior,Washington,D.C.USA -https://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/pdf/surveys-and-data/Population-status/Waterfowl/WaterfowlPopulationStatusReport18.pdf
+ information about alpha diversity measures
- students would need a laptop with R & RStudio installed prior to class

2. Each group is assigned a Survey strata from the USFWS Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey (map: https://migbirdapps.fws.gov/mbdc/databases/mas/WBPHS_2010_strata_map.pdf)
3. Waterfowl Population counts and pond densities for each strata are made available (data online for 1955-2015: https://migbirdapps.fws.gov/mbdc/databases/mas/maydb.asp)
4. Students use R to transform dataset (Using tidyverse) and calculate alpha diversity (Using the Shannon-Weaver index; R Package: vegan)
5. Students create a time-series plot for their strata of changes in alpha-diversity and pond density (ggplot).
6. students will rotate groups, and compare results from their survey strata with those of other groups

Teaching Notes and Tips

- under development - a step-by-step guideline for analyses would be provided.


- students would create plots of diversity and pond-density vs time
- student handout with questions for discussion
- take home assignment - analyze diversity using another dataset?

References and Resources