Project Phoenix Photo

Research Project | 2023

Leveraging community science and museum collections to evaluate impacts of wildfire smoke on California’s backyard birds and identify conservation opportunities

Dr. Olivia Sanderfoot is studying the impacts of air pollution on birds, including effects on behavior, species distributions, and detectability, working in collaboration with the National Park Service, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and Morgan Tingley’s Laboratory at UCLA. As global wildfire activity intensifies, wildfire smoke is considered an increasing risk to public health– yet the impacts of smoke on wildlife are largely unknown. To safeguard wildlife in an increasingly smoky world, we must rapidly expand our knowledge of how wildfire smoke impacts animal populations and identify which species are most vulnerable. Birds are likely valuable sentinel species because they are highly sensitive to toxic gases and particles. Olivia’s research focuses on understanding how wildfire smoke impacts the health and behavior of animals, especially birds, to identify conservation actions to mitigate the effects of acute and chronic smoke exposure effects on wildlife populations. To do so, Olivia has teamed up with multiple agency and university partners to learn more about how birds and other wildlife respond to smoke by analyzing data from camera traps, acoustic recorders, banding stations, and community science programs, like her 2023 outreach project, Project Phoenix.