Florida Scrub Jay Monitoring

Flatwoods Consulting Group Inc. (Flatwoods) was contracted by Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC (Mosaic) to monitor the population of Florida scrub-jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) descendent of those translocated by Mosaic between 2003-2010 within the M4 Metapopulation in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties. Flatwoods collects, analyzes, and reports summarized data on the population demographics. The translocations were part of their mitigation plan for 14 Florida scrub-jay family groups. Prior to the translocations, and under the assumption that no impacts from mining occurred, the M4 Metapopulation had an 85% probability of extinction over 60 years (Bowman 2012). In 2012, after translocating 51 birds, the population had reached 29 family groups and population modeling indicated that the extinction risk for the entire metapopulation was reduced to just 11% (Bowman 2012). The long-term monitoring required by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) enables biologists to determine the feasibility and outcome of the translocations and their effect on the health and persistence of the M4 Metapopulation. Flatwoods staff has specialized experience with avian studies that make us uniquely qualified to conduct the long-term monitoring required by FWS. Because of our extensive experience with listed avian species, Flatwoods is able to fulfill the objectives outlined in the Habitat Management Plan and the Biological Opinion issued by the FWS.
 
To monitor population health and demographic responses to habitat management, Flatwoods follows more than 40 family groups of scrub-jays that contain descendants of the original 51 translocated individuals. The nests of each family group are located and monitored so that hatching and fledging success can be determined. These measures of productivity are indicators of population health and can indicate population growth or decline. Flatwoods has two personnel authorized by USGS (United States Geological Survey) Bird Banding Laboratory and the FWS to band the nestlings with unique color combinations so that individuals and family lineages can be tracked over time to analyze survivorship of individuals and track genetic diversity. These data, along with habitat assessments, are used to make habitat management recommendations that are beneficial for the species. Regular census surveys of known occupied areas, as well as additional presence/absence surveys in unoccupied areas, provide information on population growth and dispersal patterns in the region. Dispersal patterns may also help measure the response of a growing population to Mosaic’s scrub reclamation sites.
 
We continue to learn valuable information about regional differences in this federally listed species through the long-term monitoring program. Summarized data has been presented at regional and national ecological conferences to help improve the conservation of listed species. Flatwoods continues to monitor the descendants of the translocated jays and provide technical expertise to Mosaic to ensure the continued growth and persistence of the M4 metapopulation.