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Counting Birds The Same Way
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Every year, conservation groups conduct surveys of birds and other wildlife. But there’s no standardized way to count the species. WNPR’s Nancy Cohen reports some scientists say a uniform method would make the data more useful.

Conservation Biologist Christopher Elphick at the University of Connecticut says if he were a businessman he’d want a reliable inventory of what he has to sell --- and where it is. He says conservation groups need the same kind of information about natural resources in Connecticut.

“We have a very general sense of what species are out there, but we don’t have very good information on exactly where they are and exactly how much there is.”

Elphick says we’d have better numbers if we used a standard way to count species. For instance if one person spends an hour surveying birds and another spends three hours then comparing the survey results is like comparing apples to oranges.

“If everyone was doing it the same way then you’d have data that could be compared across different locations and across different time periods. Without that standardization the data are far, far less useful to ecologists trying to track the distributions of things and changes in population size over time.”

Elphick says data that’s comparable could be used to predict where species might be found.

“Instead of having to go to every location in the state and do a survey you could go to a smaller number of places , figure out which species are present and which are not and then use that information to predict where else those species occur .”

Elphick is one of several scientists and conservationists in the state who want to create a searchable database built from standardized field surveys. He points out this could help make on-the-ground surveys, done by birding groups and land trusts, more useful to scientists and policymakers.

For WNPR I’m Nancy Cohen.