Year Established: 2014 Start Date: 2014-03-01 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $11,475 Total Non-Federal Funds: $22,950
Principal Investigators: Kayhan Ostovar
Abstract: In 2011 the ExxonMobil Silvertip pipeline near Billings, Montana spilled approximately 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River. This spill raised concerns about ecosystem health and additional point and non-point sources of pollution in the watershed. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) serve as ideal species to study the effects of various pollutants and their biomagnification since they are one of the top piscivorous predators in the ecosystem, are tolerant of humans at their nest sites and eat many of the same fish as humans. The primary goal of this study is to evaluate the health of the Yellowstone River ecosystem in Montana by monitoring ospreys, a sentinel species. In 2012 a two year pilot study was initiated to survey and locate osprey nests (n=68) and draw blood from fledglings to examine mercury levels. Two of these nests located near the industrial zone of Billings, MT had very elevated mercury levels (blood results from 2013 are pending). Mercury can enter the ecosystem through air deposition and point sources. The EPA has modeled and mapped mercury air deposition rates and fish tissue concentrations in many watersheds, though not in Montana. The population of ospreys along the Yellowstone River appears to be in an expansion phase and occupies river reaches with different morphological characteristics and anthropogenic impacts providing an opportunity to model different variables in mercury contamination and exposure. This project is designed as a long term study examining osprey recolonization of the region and natal dispersal with marked individuals (n=75 as of 2013). To help monitor these nests undergraduate students and a team of citizen scientists from local communities assist with nest monitoring and surveys. With a solid network of citizen scientists, and the majority of nests along the river identified, a greater sampling effort will be conducted in 2014. This project has significant public outreach components, professional training opportunities for undergraduate students and will form part of professor Ostovars PhD research starting in 2014.