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Black Rosy-Finch Distribution, Abundance and Habitat Selection During the Breeding Season

Black Rosy-Finch


July 2015 - June 2018


The black rosy-finch has a fairly restricted geographic range within the intermountain west, and is one of the most understudied avian species in North America (Johnson 2002). The black rosy-finch has been designated a Species of Greatest Conservation Need with a ranking of NSSU (Tier II) in Wyoming reflecting the lack of information available on this species. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count survey has shown a decline in Wyoming since the 1970s (Johnson 2002), however, potential causes for this trend have not been evaluated.

As a high elevation-obligate nester, range contraction and habitat changes resulting from climate warming could lead to local extirpation of the species. In Wyoming, climate change is one of five leading wildlife conservation challenges identified in the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). Models of future climate in the intermountain west suggest increased drought, earlier spring onset and declining snowpack (Mote 2006). In the alpine zone, climatologists have recorded increases in spring and winter temperatures (Mote and Redmond 2012), a decline in the ratio of precipitation falling as snow (Knowles et al. 2006) and a decrease in snow and ice cover (Walther et al. 2002).

Climate change therefore threatens rosy-finches in both direct and indirect ways. The advance of alpine tree-line and other non-alpine vegetation up slope in conjunction with a warming environment could lead to habitat loss and threaten critical tundra vegetation which provides seeds that comprise a main source of forage for the rosy-finch (French 1959, Johnson 2002). Snowpack in the Rocky Mountains is anticipated to be negatively affected by a 3-5° C global temperature increase over the next 100 years which will advance snowmelt by 30 to 40 days. Snowpack that holds arthropods during late season which are important for the rosy-finch diet has been further reduced in some locations by a 500% increase in dust deposition that causes melting to be advanced three weeks. In addition, acidification of alpine lakes threatens aquatic emergent insects that can comprise up to 38% of a Black Rosy-Finch’s diet during the crucial brood rearing period. Furthermore, the rosy-finch has a physiology adapted to cold environments so may be vulnerable to increasing temperatures in the breeding season.

This study would accomplish conservation actions as identified in the State Wildlife Action Plan including the establishment of long-term monitoring sites which could be used for tracking population trends and changes in habitat use. We would obtain data currently lacking on breeding habitat selection and requirements, and identify key characteristics of summer breeding habitat to build a predictive model. This information would greatly increase our understanding of the current population status and future risks faced by the Black Rosy-finch in Wyoming.

1) Assess the abundance of black-rosy finches across latitudinal and alpine habitat gradients in northwestern Wyoming.
2) Use habitat and climatic data to develop predictive distribution maps for black-rosy finches in Wyoming.
3) Evaluate the specific attributes of alpine snowfields most used for foraging.
4) Provide insight for locations and protocols for long-term black rosy-finch monitoring efforts.


Current Staff

Federal Staff: 102

Masters Students: 241

Phd Students: 163

Post Docs: 58

University Staff: 240

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 703

Scientific Publications: 1901

Presentations: 4321



Funding Agencies

  • Wyoming Game and Fish Department


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