U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Awards Grant to Southeast

Kathy and ZoeThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded a $151,306 cooperative agreement to the Department of Biology at Southeast Missouri State University to support the project, “Effects of lead (Pb) exposure on songbirds breeding within the Southeast Missouri Lead Mining District,” under the direction of Dr. Rebecka Brasso.

Working in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Brasso and her students have launched a study to assess the effects of lead exposure on songbirds breeding within the Southeast Missouri Lead Mining District.  This study is part of an ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDA) process being conducted among a number of co-trustees.  The NRDA process will determine whether releases of hazardous substances have injured natural resources, quantify injuries, if any, and determine damages and compensate the public for the loss of natural resources.

Eastern bluebird nestling

Eastern bluebird nestling

Brasso, assistant professor of biology and project director for the grant, said, “Our part in this NRDA is to quantify injury, if any, to songbirds breeding in lead contaminated areas in this region. In particular, our focus will center on the reproductive success of nest box breeding birds at both contaminated and reference sites over the next three years.”

Over spring break, Brasso and her graduate student erected 90 nest boxes at five study sites in habitats suitable for recruiting breeding populations of Eastern Bluebirds. In addition to the nest boxes, intensive field work is well underway, led by Brasso’s students, Kathy Hixson of Front Royal, Virginia, who is pursuing a Master of Natural Science (MNS ’18) with a major in biology, and  Zoe Harper or Richmond, Missouri, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science (B.S. ‘17) with major in environmental science, biology option. They are locating nests and tracking the reproductive success of 12 additional species of songbirds. Both of Brasso’s students are based in Farmington, Missouri, for the summer and are working in collaboration with a four woman field crew from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Those interested in following the study’s day to day activity are encouraged to follow it on Twitter @SeeMoBirds.