Avian Community Composition in Response to High Explosive Testing Operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Northern New Mexico


Breeding bird abundance, species richness, evenness, diversity, composition, productivity, and survivorship were determined near a high-explosive detonation site at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, USA, during pre-operation (1997-1999) and operation (2000-2014) periods. The operation periods consisted of detonations (<23 kg in yield and <3 per breeding season) in open air (2000-2002), within foam containment (2003-2006) and within steel vessel containment (2007-2014) systems; the latter two were employed to reduce noise and dispersal of high-explosives residues. A total of 2952 bird captures, representing 80 species, was recorded during 18 years of mist net operations using the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship protocol. Individuals captured were identified to species, aged, sexed, and banded during May through August of each year. There were no significant differences (p > 0.05) in mean avian abundance and species evenness in any of the operation periods as compared with the pre-operation period. Species richness and diversity were significantly higher (p < 0.05) during the vessel containment period (2007-2014) than the pre-operation period. The time period of this study coincided with a wildfire (2000), a bark beetle infestation (2002), and two periods of drought (Nov 1999-Mar 2004 and Dec 2005-Dec 2014) that affected the study area. Analysis of aerial photos determined that the average percent canopy cover of mature ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) within 100 feet of mist net sites declined from 12% to 3% between 1991 and 2014 and the percent cover of shrubs slightly increased. The percent similarity in presence/abundance between the pre-operation avian community and avian community during the open air, foam containment, and vessel containment periods were 59%, 63% and 68% respectively. Two bird species associated with large trees became less common over the study period (capture rate dropped below 2.0 adults per 600 net-hours relative to the pre-operations period), and four bird species associated with edge and scrub habitats became more common over the study period (capture rate increased to more than 2.0 adults per 600 net-hours relative to the pre-operations period). Bird demographics (productivity and survival) were not negatively affected by the initiation of firing site operations. The increase in diversity and the change in bird species composition over time were probably related to the change in vegetation from a woodland to a more open woodland/shrub environment.

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Keller, D. , Fresquez, P. , Hansen, L. and Kaschube, D. (2015) Avian Community Composition in Response to High Explosive Testing Operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Northern New Mexico. Journal of Environmental Protection, 6, 1442-1453. doi: 10.4236/jep.2015.612125.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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