Associate professor of Biology co-authors chapter in new conservation guidelines for Gulf

May 4, 2020 | Applied and Natural Sciences, Faculty/Staff, Research

On the 10-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon disaster, “Strategic Bird Monitoring Guidelines for the Northern Gulf of Mexico,” the first comprehensive, Gulf-wide monitoring framework for birds that provides a reference for everyone involved in conserving, protecting, and monitoring birds in the region, has been published.

Biology logoThe Deepwater Horizon oil spill was an industrial disaster that began on April 20, 2010, and is considered to be the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The new monitoring guidelines will aid bird conservation in the Gulf.

Louisiana Tech Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Dr. Terri Maness co-authored the guideline’s chapter concerning Avian Health in what has been a labor of many years of work by dozens of individuals supported by their agencies and organizations.

“These guidelines are intended to identify data gaps and uncertainties in our current state of knowledge of bird-habitat conservation along the northern Gulf of Mexico,” Maness said. “Our hope is that this report will guide future bird monitoring efforts and decision making in the region.”

About her contribution to the guidelines as a co-author of the Avian Health chapter, Maness said that birds in the Gulf are at high risk of acute and chronic exposure to pollutants and that, similarly, coastal birds are at an increasing risk of encountering harmful algal blooms, novel pathogens, and local and regional stressors that affect health, including hurricanes and human disturbance.

“Monitoring avian health is a priority, both to understand the effects of these threats and environmental stressors, but also as a way of monitoring beneficial effects of restoration or management efforts,” she said.

The need for more data and these guidelines was first recognized in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This vast oil spill has highlighted the risk present to the coastal habitats and offshore waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico, one of the most ecologically and socio-economically important ecosystems in the world.

“A diverse range of birds were impacted, from Brown Pelicans to Clapper Rails,” Maness said. “Not enough was known about the status of these birds prior to the spill and even less was understood about how to restore them to healthy population sizes. As part of the Deepwater Horizon settlement, large-scale restoration work has begun in the northern Gulf of Mexico; this presents a new set of opportunities to understand bird populations and advance bird-habitat conservation. For this restoration process to succeed, decision makers will need information on bird ecology, life-history strategies, and responses to environmental change to account for the myriad stressors from natural processes to anthropogenic activities that affect the health and persistence of bird populations.”

Her co-authors include educators Mary Ann Ottinger of the University of Houston, Jacquelyn Grace of Texas A&M, Patrick Jodice of Clemson, and R. Randy Wilson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jackson, Mississippi.

The Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network (GoMAMN) was formed to facilitate the collection and utilization of bird monitoring data to inform conservation and restoration decision making. GoMAMN is a self-organized group of federal, state, academic, and NGO scientists and managers using the principles of structured decision making to identify core values and fundamental objectives as a means to establish and prioritize guidelines for avian monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico.

The full report can be accessed at