Bird Studies Canada, in partnership with Environment Canada, began developing the Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP) in Ontario in 1993 and 1994. That partnership expanded in 1995 to include the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes National Program Office, and with additional support from the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the Great Lakes 2000 Cleanup Fund, the MMP was launched within Ontario and the U.S. Great Lakes states. Since then, the MMP has been conducting citizen science-based marsh bird and anuran (frog and toad) monitoring in marshes throughout the Great Lakes basin, providing vital information about species diversity, occurrence and abundance to inform and guide conservation, restoration and management programs for marshes and their bird and amphibian inhabitants.
Characterized by the presence of emergent vegetation and open standing water, marshes are home to several bird and amphibian species that rely on these aquatic habitats for breeding and foraging. The marsh-dependence of these species makes them susceptible to changes in habitat quality and quantity. Monitoring marsh bird and amphibian populations is thus an effective means of estimating the quality of marshes, and by extension, their surrounding watersheds.
Through MMP volunteer monitoring efforts, MMP data have demonstrated that several marsh-dependent bird species, such as Least Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, Black Tern and Virginia Rail have shown signs of population decline in the Great Lakes basin, while wetland edge or generalist species, such as Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Mallard, have experienced population increases. Similarly, the MMP has demonstrated consistently declining population trends for amphibian species such as Chorus Frog and American Toad.
The MMP is currently working with various U.S. Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) Remedial Action Plan teams to evaluate the status of various environmental impairments and to provide assistance in making informed decisions to monitor their recovery. Efforts to improve environmental conditions in AOCs can be measured by tracking marsh habitat recovery through long-term MMP indicator (sentinel) species population monitoring. MMP data have also been used to assess the health of Great Lakes coastal marshes through the development of Indices of Biotic Integrity (IBIs). Government agencies and researchers can use IBIs to rank coastal marshes according to their level of environmental degradation, and therefore help to determine where to focus targeted restoration and remediation efforts across the basin. Finally, the MMP is working to establish and support local MMP coordinators who help provide grassroots-level MMP volunteer recruitment, training and servicing in Great Lakes basin AOCs. The hands-on assistance of coordinators provided to local volunteers helps to make MMP surveys a more enjoyable and rewarding experience.
For more information on the MMP, contact us or visit www.birdscanada.org/mmpmain.html.