Research in Baja

Posted at 2:52 pm January 20, 2008 by James Sheppard

I’m a postdoctoral fellow new to the Beckman Center for Conservation Research. I will be researching the California condors being reintroduced to Baja California, Mexico. My project aims to examine the movement patterns, foraging behaviors, habitat use, and nest-site selection of the condors. This will be done with the goal to improve our knowledge of condor ecology so we can better manage and conserve this endangered flagship species.

Condors are scavengers and range widely in search of food. The carcasses on which condors feed are spread around a large habitat and are extremely variable in abundance and distribution. Hence, understanding how condors forage effectively in the wild is crucial to their conservation. Condors also require consistent thermal air currents to conduct long-range foraging movements. A central hypothesis of my study is that the environmental factors specific to condor habitats shape their movement patterns and habitat use.

Condors also have complex social dynamics and form dominance hierarchies (or “pecking orders”). My project will determine the role that social relationships play in condor foraging and habitat use. Studying the interaction between condors and their habitat requires knowledge of their movement patterns at scales relevant to both condors and managers. This has not been possible in the past because of the difficulties of direct observation of condors and the low resolution of tracking equipment. My project capitalizes on incorporating accurate GPS technology into tracking equipment to monitor the movement patterns of wild condors at very high resolution for extended periods (years). Better understanding of condor spatial ecology will provide the ability to model and map condor habitat use and foraging patterns at scales that are suitable for informing policy of condor reintroduction programs and the management of human sources of threat to condor populations.

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