Breeding bird atlases are among the most published examples of citizen science in the scientific literature. They generate large, multi-species datasets that can be applied to a wide range of research questions and approaches. Four recent reviews of the application of breeding bird atlases to research and conservation describe the advantages and shortcomings, opportunities and limitations (Gibbons et al. 2007, Dunn and Weston 2008, Pomeroy et al. 2008, and Tulloch et al. 2013).

Breeding bird atlases of the geographic scale of Canadian provinces require major resourcing and complex, multi-layered coordination. Most if not all staff time prior to publication is dedicated to coordination, data verification and species account write-ups. The research potential of breeding bird atlas datasets is usually realised only after the projects are completed, and with the collaboration of individuals and institutions with an interest in exploring specific questions (Dickinson et al. 2010, Tulloch et al. 2013).

Conservation Research Priorities stemming from this Atlas

We invite you to contact us at to either propose leading research on which we might collaborate, or to simply inform us of research you are doing or plan to conduct using this Atlas. Collaboration is the most effective way for the Atlas dataset to be put to wide and meaningful use. Here are some priority research questions we would like to pursue using the Atlas dataset:

  • How well is the British Columbia protected and conservation areas system performing for all birds, can improvements be made, and if so, where?
  • Which bird species and guilds in which regions of the province may be most at-risk, or may benefit most from predicted longer-term climate scenarios and projected changes to biogeoclimatic zones?
  • What are the effects of the human footprint (e.g., road density or habitat fragmentation from urbanization) on the distribution and abundance of individual species, and overall bird diversity?
  • What are the finer-scale habitat features selected by species and guilds of conservation interest, based on bird and habitat information collected at Atlas point count stations?
  • Where are the main centres of species/sub-species divergence and hybridisation based on Atlas distribution and abundance data? [This is known for some species, but for others the subject is less well understood]

Published British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas Research

University researchers in British Columbia have already used this Atlas dataset to ask ecological questions about large-scale breeding bird distribution. The University of British Columbia’s Department of Forest Sciences explored how well environmental regionalisation schemes (including Bird Conservation Regions and ecoprovinces) perform when compared to bird diversity indices derived from Atlas data (Rickbeil et al. 2013). The University of Victoria’s Geography Department demonstrated the importance of ambient energy in influencing species diversity by analysing Atlas and remotely sensed data; their results suggest that the potential exists to monitor shifts in ambient energy as a surrogate for habitat conditions affecting population levels (Fitterer et al. 2013).

Postgraduate Research using British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas data

The following list is a selection of MSc, PhD or post-doctoral studies that have applied or explored the Atlas dataset to answer specific questions:

  • Monitoring forest and range species and ecological processes to anticipate and respond to climate change.
  • Population structure and migratory patterns of the White-Throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis in western Canada.
  • Spatial modelling of Long-billed Curlew in British Columbia by habitat association.
  • Systematic conservation area design for use in old-growth forest restoration.
  • Prioritizing conservation actions for forest species by using beta-diversity analyses to identify dissimilar communities and regions that could be impacted by forecasted renewable and unconventional energy development.
  • Using species distribution models to scale up known local responses of forest birds (specialists and generalists) to disturbance (logging, fire) at a landscape level, and predicting how less well-studied populations may respond to future disturbance.
  • Indirect effects of fish on breeding Harlequin Ducks.


Dickinson, J.L., B. Zuckerberg, and D.N. Bonter. 2010. Citizen science as an ecological research tool: challenges and benefits. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 41: 149–172.

Dunn, A.M. and M.A. Weston. 2008. A review of terrestrial bird atlases of the world and their application. Emu 108: 42-67.

Fitterer, J.L., T.A. Nelson, N.C. Coops, M.A. Wulder, N.A. Mahony. 2013. Exploring the ecological processes driving geographical patterns of breeding bird richness in British Columbia Canada. Ecological Applications 23: 888–903. < > [2014 July 5]

Gibbons, D.W., P.F. Donald, H-G. Bauer, L. Fornasari, and I.K. Dawson. 2007. Mapping avian distributions: the evolution of bird atlases: Bird Study 54 (3): 324-334. < > [2014 June 30]

Pomerey, D., H. Tushabe, and R. Cowser. 2008. Bird atlases – how useful are they for conservation? Bird Conservation International 18: S211-S222.

Rickbeil, G.J.M., N.C. Coops, M.E. Andrew, D.K. Bolton, N. Mahony, and T.A. Nelson. 2013. Assessing conservation regionalization schemes: employing a beta diversity metric to test the environmental surrogacy approach. Diversity and Distributions 1-12.

Tulloch, A.I.T., H.P. Possingham, L.N. Joseph, J. Szabo, and T.G. Martin. 2013. Realising the full potential of citizen science monitoring programs. Biological Conservation 165: 128–138.

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