#GlobalAOS: Prashant Ghimire

This July and August, we’re running a special series of blog posts profiling AOS members around the world, in honor of the recent change to AOS’s bylaws eliminated any reference specifying the Western Hemisphere as the Society’s geographic sphere of influence. This week, meet Prashant Ghimire, a student in Nepal.

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Prashant observing Asian Woollynecks in the field.

What’s your current job title and affiliation?

I just graduated with a Bachelor in Forestry from the Tribhuvan University Institute of Forestry in Pokhara, Nepal.

What are you working on right now?

I study the Asian Woollyneck, which is a kind of stork found only in Asia that is threatened but has not been well-studied. I initiated a research project on the woollyneck in 2016. Our first project was studying its population status in the western lowlands of Nepal, and then we moved to the hills of Nepal to study its nesting behavior and ecology with support from the Rufford Foundation in the UK. Woollynecks nest in tall trees, so finding a good vantage point to study a nest can be difficult, and sometimes we have to climb a nearby hill! We have also conducted educational programs in schools and communities, providing bird identification training and bird guide training and teaching them about our research.

In 2018, I received a Student Research Award from AOS to fund research on the foraging activities of Asian Woollyneck in the western lowlands of Nepal. We studied their foraging ecology by recording and analyzing video of their behaviors in the field, and I just completed my report on this project.

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Prashant conducting an outreach program in rural Nepal.

When did you join AOS, and why did you decide to join?

I have been a member since 2018, and I joined because the American Ornithological Society is a global platform. To conserve birds, we must work together, whether in Nepal or in the U.S. or in any other country, because birds are global citizens. But in a developing country like Nepal, we lack some technological advances, so I joined the American Ornithological Society to collaborate with global researchers and scientists.

What do you see as the best benefit of being an AOS member?

The student research award that I received was probably the best thing, but I’m also able to explore different opportunities through the American Ornithological Society. Currently I am searching for opportunities for further studies around the world, so through my membership in the American Ornithological Society I explore different job, research, and scholarship opportunities. I think it is helping researchers like me around the world.

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An Asian Woollyneck maintaining its nests and eggs.

Introducing #GlobalAOS

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AOS is growing, with over 3,000 members this year, and we are becoming younger and more diverse in many different ways. We are celebrating this diversity in our organizational culture, our programs and member benefits, and in our outreach efforts. At the recent AOS conference in Anchorage, Alaska, where the theme explored the dynamic boundaries of birds as well as ornithology, the Society approved an important change to our bylaws that reflects the global nature of our membership and the community we serve: we have eliminated any reference defining the Western Hemisphere as the Society’s geographic sphere of influence. 

In honor of AOS’s growing global influence, we’re launching a special series of posts profiling members from around the world. In the coming weeks you’ll read stories of an undergraduate student studying storks in Nepal, a researcher at a museum in Switzerland, a professor working on ibis conservation in Japan, and more. What do they all have in common? They’ve all joined our international community of ornithologists working across the planet to advance the scientific study and conservation of birds. We hope you’ll read them here, and if you’re on social media, you can also follow along on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #GlobalAOS. Come back tomorrow for the first post!

Subsistence Harvest and Indigenous Knowledge in Alaska

Liliana Naves

Linked paper: Shorebird subsistence harvest and indigenous knowledge in Alaska: Informing harvest management and engaging users in shorebird conservation by L.C. Naves, J.M. Keating, T.L. Tibbitts, and D.R. Ruthrauff, The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

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Sharing a meal of wild foods with the James family at the community of Platinum, after an indigenous knowledge interview. Photo by Lili Naves, ADF&G Division of Subsistence.

Many shorebirds migrate across continents and oceans, relying on key areas to rest, eat, and refuel. Habitat loss, climate change, and other factors are affecting these birds at their breeding, migration, and wintering grounds. Numbers of long-distance migrating shorebirds that breed in North America are down by about 50% since the mid-1970s.

Biologists and social scientists joined forces in this interdisciplinary study to quantify shorebird harvest and document indigenous knowledge in Alaska. We wanted to learn about the importance of shorebirds as food and cultural resources, what Yup’ik people know about shorebirds, and how they could join in conservation efforts. We worked within the Harvest Assessment Program of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council.

Twelve million shorebirds converge in Alaska every summer to breed, then migrate to winter in the Americas, the Pacific, and Asia. The Yukon-Kuskokwim delta in western Alaska provides critical habitat and food for these shorebirds. The delta is also the homeland of the indigenous Yup’ik people. For thousands of years, Yup’ik people have shared this vast wetland with shorebirds. Shorebirds represent only 1% of the subsistence bird harvest in Alaska, but this harvest includes species of conservation concern, in particular the Bar-tailed Godwit. These birds’ population size and adult survival have been declining, and some annual harvest estimates seemed high.

We generated Alaska-wide harvest estimates using a large dataset (775 community-years!) including surveys conducted between 1990 and 2015. The total harvest was about 2,800 shorebirds per year. Godwits were about 1,100 birds per year, and based on species distribution, these were all most likely Bar-tailed Godwits. The egg harvest was about 4,700 eggs per year.

The indigenous knowledge research for this study focused on the Yup’ik culture of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Working with tribal councils, we interviewed 80 respondents in 5 communities in 2017. We asked about shorebird ethnotaxonomy (how local people name birds and categorize species), importance for subsistence, place names, ecology, and concerns. Traditional knowledge is based on observation and experience accumulated over generations by people living in close contact with nature. We learned that shorebirds are known mostly by specialists. Yup’ik people name shorebirds in their Native language, so we worked with a translator. We learned 24 Yup’ik shorebird names, 7 of which were more widely known among our respondents. Most names are multi-species categories. Some names are onomatopoeic. For instance, the Yup’ik name for Wilson’s Snipe is Kukukuaq, after the sound made during their distinctive winnow display. Place names may tell about sites important for birds: Tevatevaaq Bay is a shallow, protected bay that indeed looks like a gathering place for the Tevatevaaq (Bar-tailed Godwit).

Shorebirds and their eggs are not primary food sources, but are harvested in times of scarcity. Traditionally, children learning to hunt focus on small birds, including shorebirds. Shorebirds are a joyful part of nature and connect people with their environment, traditional culture, and language. Yup’ik people have noticed a decline in local shorebird numbers in recent decades. Based on traditional knowledge, they understand that animals, people, and the land are interconnected. If populations of shorebirds or other animals are not doing well, something is out of balance in nature, and that thing may finally also affect people.

Whether a harvest is sustainable depends on both harvest levels and on the status of the bird populations being harvested. Data gaps still prevent robust assessments of shorebird harvest sustainability, but Bar-tailed Godwit populations currently have low harvest potential, and recent sharp declines in shorebird populations mean that we need to account for uncertainty in harvest sustainability in our conservation efforts. Shorebirds now depend on citizens, biologists, and managers to protect and restore their habitats. It is important to include indigenous peoples and other stakeholders in shorebird conservation along flyways. This study is already the basis for culture-focused conservation outreach efforts in western Alaska. As a next step, we want to collaboratively develop conservation approaches that benefit shorebirds as well as the well-being of these subsistence communities. We all play a role in our relationships with nature!

Welcome to the New AOS Fellows, Honorary Fellows, & Elective Members

At our annual meeting each year, we officially welcome the new classes of Fellows, Honorary Fellows, and Elective Members of AOS. Individuals are elected to these special membership classes in recognition of their contributions to ornithology and to AOS. Congratulations to the newest members of these honored groups, who were voted in at our 2019 annual meeting in Anchorage last month! Continue reading “Welcome to the New AOS Fellows, Honorary Fellows, & Elective Members”

Congratulations to the 2019 Student Presentation Award Winners

Every year, the American Ornithological Society bestows a range of Student Presentation Awards to students at all levels (undergraduate, masters, and doctoral) who present outstanding posters or oral presentations at the our annual meeting. With 120 students competing for awards at this year’s recent annual meeting in Anchorage, our 70-plus volunteer judges had their work cut out for them! Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, listed below, each of whom received a $500 honorarium with their award, and congratulations as well to every single student who presented research at this year’s meeting — your contributions helped make the Anchorage meeting a huge success! Continue reading “Congratulations to the 2019 Student Presentation Award Winners”