My research interests include wildlife ecology, conservation biology, and environmental policy. I am currently working on my doctoral research in the UW Quantitative Ecology Lab, run by Dr. Beth Gardner. My dissertation is titled Fire, Smoke, and Song: Exploring the impact of exposure to particle pollution on bird observations and acoustic activity. This work builds off my master’s thesis, completed at the UW – Madison Center of Sustainability & the Global Environment under the direction of Dr. Tracey Holloway. My dissertation is focused on characterizing the impacts of acute and chronic exposure to particle pollution on bird communities. I also recently conducted research on seabird populations and microplastic pollution in French Polynesia as a member of the UW Tetiaroa Seabird Team.

Current research activities:

1) using data from eBird and the Breeding Bird Survey to model the impacts of particle pollution on bird observations

2) monitoring birds before, during, and after wildfires and prescribed burns to characterize the impacts of wildfire smoke on acoustic activity

3) coordinating a community science program to study how COVID-19 lockdowns impacted detection and occupancy of birds in the Pacific Northwest

Olivia with a bioacoustic monitor she and her team deployed in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Olivia collecting water samples in Tetiaroa, a remote atoll in French Polyneisa, to test for microplastics.
Olivia setting up bioacoustic monitors and camera traps at a sampling location in eastern Washington.

Impact of smoke pollution on the probability of observing birds

Our team analyzed bird observations from thousands of checklists submitted to eBird, an online community science program, and data from an extensive network of air quality monitors to assess how exposure to fine particulate matter, a marker of smoke pollution, affected the probability of observing 50 bird species in Washington State during the wildfire seasons of 2015 through 2018. We hope our results will provide a foundation for developing mechanistic hypotheses to explain avian responses to wildfire smoke exposure across taxa.

TEAM: Olivia V. Sanderfoot, Beth Gardner


Detection and occupancy of backyard birds in the Pacific Northwest during COVID-19 lockdowns

In Spring 2020, we launched a community science project to collect bird observations during COVID-19 lockdowns. We are now building occupancy models to determine how different components of urban habitat (e.g. land cover type, air pollution, traffic volume, supplementary feeding) influenced detection and presence of birds this spring.

TEAM: Olivia V. Sanderfoot, Beth Gardners


Special thanks to our 880 volunteers!

Silent Summers: Impact of particle pollution on acoustic activity

Our team is currently collecting acoustic data at monitoring sites in areas prone to wildfires in eastern Washington State. We plan to use ecoacoustic indices to characterize how wildlife activity was impacted by wildfire smoke in the summers of 2019 and 2020.

TEAM: Olivia V. Sanderfoot, Beth Gardner, Sarah B. Bassing, Trent Roussin


Linking Breeding Bird Survey observations to particle pollution across the U.S.

We are currently integrating bird observations collected in the North American Breeding Bird Survey and air quality datasets to assess population-level responses to land use change and air pollution across a wide range of exposure levels. Our goal is to determine if air quality is related to bird counts, an index for abundance. This study will provide crucial insight into the risks particle pollution poses to birds and whether or not air quality is related to avian population trends.

TEAM: Olivia V. Sanderfoot, Beth Gardner


Impact of smoke from prescribed burns on bird activity: A before-after-control-impact study in Methow Valley, Washington

In Fall 2019, our team deployed bioacoustic recorders at 20 monitoring sites near areas targeted for prescribed burns in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. We plan to use ecoacoustic indices to characterize how bird vocalization was impacted by smoke from prescribed fires.

TEAM: Olivia V. Sanderfoot, Beth Gardner


Special thanks to our field techs, Sydney Gerig and Nate Rice!

Air pollution impacts on avian species via inhalation exposure and associated outcomes

Despite the well-established links between air pollution and human health, vegetation, and aquatic ecosystems, less attention has been paid to the potential impact of reactive atmospheric gases and aerosols on avian species. In this literature review, we summarize findings published since 1950 regarding avian responses to air pollution and discuss knowledge gaps that could be addressed in future studies. We find consistent evidence for adverse health impacts on birds attributable to exposure to gas-phase and particulate air pollutants, including carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), smoke, and heavy metals, as well as mixtures of urban and industrial emissions. Avian responses to air pollution include respiratory distress and illness, increased detoxification effort, elevated stress levels, immunosuppression, behavioral changes, and impaired reproductive success. Exposure to air pollution may furthermore reduce population density, species diversity, and species richness in bird communities.

TEAM: Olivia V. Sanderfoot, Tracey Holloway

PROJECT STATUS: Published in Environmental Research Letters