We study the behavior and ecology of birds and how birds contribute to ecological functioning and ecosystem services and disservices. We are particularly interested in patterns of bird activity in managed landscapes dominated by agriculture. How do we make landscapes more hospitable for native species that contribute significant ecosystem services and less hospitable to non-native species and those that cause ecosystem disservices? An exciting project in the lab, in collaboration with fungal ecologist Laura Aldrich-Wolfe at North Dakota State University, focuses on the role of birds in transporting fungi between coffee fields and natural forest in Costa Rica. Fungi can be beneficial or detrimental to plant growth and bird transport of fungi from coffee fields to forest may influence the growth and survival of native plant species in forest. A new project, recently funded by the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, will compare bird and insect activity in conventional cherry and apple orchards vs. high-density orchards. High-density orchards are becoming more common given their potential economic benefits. They may also provide environmental benefits but the activity of pest and beneficial organisms in high-density orchards has not been well-documented. Another project, led by postdoctoral fellow Olivia Smith, investigates the potential role of American kestrels in enhancing food safety in cherry orchards.
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