The data rescue intern: Andrea Brown
The world is becoming more urban. Like many population centres, Vancouver has increased in urban density and area over the last century. Urbanization decreases the availability of natural, forested areas and increases fragmentation between smaller habitats, and has been associated with reductions in the species richness of birds.The effect of urban development on Vancouver’s birds is unknown, but could be determined by comparing current and historical bird surveys. Studies by Weber 1967, Lancaster 1974 and Melles 1994 provide a baseline for bird species diversity, density, and distribution in urban areas in Vancouver between 1960 and 1995.
Wayne C. Weber (1967) wrote his MSc dissertation (UBC Dept. of Zoology) on Birds in cities: A study of populations, foraging ecology and nest-sites of urban birds. Weber’s dissertation examined the ecology of urban bird between 1968 and 1970, using four year-round and two winter census plots in Vancouver, and six winter plots, censused in Ottawa, Ontario (2 plots), Sacramento, California (2 plots) with an additional two plots in Vancouver.
Richard K. Lancaster (1974) wrote his MSc dissertation (UBC Zoology) on Bird communities in relation to the structure of urban habitats. He used eight study plots (ca. 8 ha each) in Vancouver to record bird sightings and examine bird species diversity, species richness, evenness, and total diversity.
Stephanie J Melles (1994) wrote her MSc dissertation (UBC, Faculty of Forestry) on the Effects of landscape and local habitat features on bird communities: a study of urban gradient in greater Vancouver. . Bird data was collected over two years at 285 census points in Vancouver and Burnaby, B.C., and data was used to examine the associations between species distributions, nesting guilds and habitat variables.
LDP intern Andrea Brown, from McGill University, transcribed, archived, and properly structured the survey data from all three dissertations for further use and analysis. Each table of raw data from Weber (1967) and Lancaster (1974), including appendices, was transcribed from the scanned PDF format into .csv files. Using R, files containing comparable types of data, such as bird census data for each plot or plant surveys, were compiled with additional identifying information (e.g. plot, season). Data were then cleaned and reformatted so that they are easily accessible and usable for potential further use and analysis. A meta-data file for both studies was created to include notes from the original dissertations, plus information on which original tables were compiled into composite tables. Data from Melles (1994) was already digitized and only required manipulation in R to restructure the data into two files of raw bird census data and one file describing site and environmental data for each census point. Two additional files were transcribed from the original thesis listing the species recorded and the nesting guilds. Meta-data was also created for the Melles dataset, including information on the relationship between original files and new files.
These historical bird surveys are now being replicated by Harold Eyster (UBC) to determine how these urban bird communities have changed over time. Preserving the ecological data within graduate dissertations provides important baselines for understanding the impacts of anthropogenic habitat change.