Avian conservation science in North America has produced a variety of monitoring programs designed to provide information on population status of birds. Waterfowl surveys provide population estimates for breeding ducks over most of the continent, the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) provides indexes to population change for >400 breeding bird species, and many other surveys exist that index bird populations at a variety of scales and seasons. However, many fundamental questions about bird population change remain unanswered. I suggest that analyses of monitoring data provide limited understanding of causes of population change, and that the declining species paradigm (Caughley 1994) is sometimes an inefficient approach to increasing our understanding of causes of population change. In North America, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) provides an opportunity to implement alternative approaches that use management, modeling of population responses to management, and monitoring in combination to increase our understanding of bird populations. In adaptive resources management, modeling provides predictions about consequences of management, and monitoring data allow us to assess the population consequences of management. In this framework, alternative hypotheses about response of populations to management can be evaluated by formulating a series of models with differing structure, and management and monitoring provide information about which model best predicts population response.
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Developing a general conceptual framework for avian conservation science