Spatial Conservation Planning Tools

Spatial Conservation Planning Tools

The PPJV believes that conservation planning is a spatial process. The foundation of almost all of our conservation science revolves around maps based on mathematical models that highlight the best areas to do conservation work for specific priority bird species. These models create maps like the ones depicted below and help biologists target appropriate habitat treatments within the right landscapes for priority birds. Through the scientific investment in spatial planning tools, the PPJV can increase efficiencies in how conservation dollars are targeted and can quantify benefits of our work to regional bird populations.


We have built spatially explicit models targeting waterfowl populations that prioritize habitats for management practices (e.g., grassland protection, grassland restoration) to benefit upland nesting waterfowl. The maps are based on modeling waterfowl pairs and their accessibility to upland habitats for the five most common breeding ducks in the PPJV - mallard, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, gadwall, and northern shoveler.

Our duck priority map has been used extensively by Joint Venture partners to prioritize and target the conservation and management of uplands in areas with access by high densities of breeding pairs of ducks. Examples include targeting the conservation of native grassland using fee purchases or grassland easements, and the restoration of grass cover by the USDA Conservation Reserve Program.

Grassland Birds

Loss of grasslands has resulted in large declines in grassland bird populations, making grassland birds one of the most imperiled guilds of birds in North America. Further, grasslands complement the wetlands for which the PPR was named, as many species of wetland-dependent birds nest in surrounding grasslands. Grass cover is essential for successful nesting and brood rearing for a wide variety of ground nesting birds from passerines to waterfowl. Large-scale efforts are underway to conserve the PPR because of its vital importance to waterfowl, grassland birds, and other wildlife.

To facilitate including grassland birds conservation in planning efforts, we have developed a series of spatially explicit grassland bird population models (see example below), which help guide conservation efforts. These models help local biologists work in the right landscapes and also allow us to mathematically quantify how local scale habitat work collectively affects grassland bird populations.

Shorebirds & Waterbirds

Given their reliance on wetlands for foraging and native grasslands for nesting, upland-nesting shorebirds are a priority for conservation in the PPJV. Shorebirds have benefitted greatly from ongoing waterfowl conservation efforts. Additionally, the HAPET office has worked extensively to develop reliable tools for targeting conservation specifically for shorebirds. Survey data are used in conjunction with landcover data to develop spatial models predicting the occurrence of priority shorebirds such as marbled godwit (see map below), willet, and Wilson’s phalarope. These models are used in conjunction with spatial models for waterfowl, grassland birds, and waterbirds to help prioritize lands for conservation.

Waterbirds such as grebes, rails, terns, herons, and gulls have also benefitted greatly from wetland conservation efforts in the U.S. PPR. However, understanding population dynamics and habitat selection of waterbirds is complicated due to the secretive nature of many waterbird species. The HAPET office and USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center assessed survey methodology and evaluated the common assumption that the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) does not adequately sample wetland habitats, finding instead that the BBS very accurately represents the majority of wetlands in the PPR. The HAPET office now uses georeferenced BBS data in conjunction with landcover data to model distributions of several species of waterbirds. Similar to waterfowl, waterbird populations are strongly tied to local water conditions, which can vary greatly across space and time. Therefore, we use wetlands data from the Four-Square-Mile Breeding Waterfowl Survey to improve waterbird models by characterizing annual water conditions. Resulting models are used in conjunction with spatial models for waterfowl, grassland birds, and shorebirds to help prioritize lands for conservation.