Pinyon Jay Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
Version: 2.0 — Published March 19, 2020
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Priorities for Future Research
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Priorities for Future Research
Research priorities for Pinyon Jays are now driven by the urgent need for knowledge to support the conservation of this rapidly declining bird. Although climate change impacts to Pinyon Jay habitat have been documented and future impacts modeled, more information on the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on Pinyon Jay survival and reproductive success would be useful. However, the difficult question of how to conserve species impacted by climate change remains. One approach is to focus conservation efforts on areas and habitats likely to be most resilient to climate change (187), a potentially fertile area of research.
Another approach is to understand the human activities which may further impact Pinyon Jay populations already stressed by climate change. More studies of the impacts of woodland treatments (especially thinning) on Pinyon Jays, other pinyon–juniper bird species, and their habitats are needed. In particular, the conditions under which birds abandon or fail to reproduce within a treated site are largely unknown. Understanding thresholds for abandonment (e.g., 8) and impacts to nesting success would inform management where thinning is deemed necessary to address wildfire risk.
Local population estimates, flock home ranges, and locations of nesting colonies are little known in much of the species' range. A standardized survey protocol is needed to acquire this information and monitor population trends.
Habitat use has only been well documented in New Mexico; investigations of important habitat covariates and their relationship to survival and reproductive success are needed range-wide. This includes additional information on the biology of pinyon and juniper trees; especially the relationship of climate to tree health, productivity, and mortality; and the consequences for Pinyon Jays. The potential influence of declining insect populations should be investigated, and little is known about the impact of West Nile virus and other diseases on population declines.
Pinyon Jays are highly intelligent, mobile birds which use a variety of habitats. Hence, they would seem to be more behaviorally resilient to climate and human-caused impact than some other bird species. Investigations of behavioral flexibility in response to the impacts of climate change could help inform management. For example, possible behavior tactics could include moving nesting colony locations to areas with healthier trees (8); use of alternative food sources (including the effects of feeders and wildlife waterers); expanding home ranges to include additional areas of unaffected habitat; shifting home ranges northward; or changes in nesting behaviors, such as nesting only in years of abundant food or increased rates of cooperative breeding.
Many additional avenues of basic research on basic Pinyon Jay behavior, ecology, population dynamics, and variation in these factors across the range could provide insights useful for conservation and management. However, in light of their declining populations, the need for research directly applicable to their conservation appears most urgent. Additional suggestions for research priorities are provided by the Conservation Strategy for the Pinyon Jay (162).