GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Using a grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers from Michigan State University and the National Audubon Society will work together to help protect declining bird populations across North America.

The university announced the plans Wednesday, as well as the $1.3 million grant from the NSF. Using the money, researchers and conservationists will work together to gather data and build statistical models to evaluate how climate change and land use are affecting hundreds of bird species, identifying which ones are at the highest risk.

Elise Zipkin, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Integrative Biology, will lead the project on the university’s side.

“People love birds and love looking at birds, but they do so much more that we don’t think about or appreciate as much,” Zipkin said in a news release. “Birds provide a ton of ecosystem services that are worth billions of dollars, including nutrient cycling, pest control, seed dispersal and pollination.”

Researchers estimate that North America has lost more than 3 billion birds over the last 50 years and those trends are expected to continue as the Earth’s climate continues to warm and humans continue to strip away natural ecosystems.

“Broadly speaking, our results will help with conservation planning for avian species and communities,” Zipkin said. “Our models will reveal which areas are likely to be bad for birds in the future and which areas are likely to be climate refugia. We can use that information to make decisions about where to target conservation efforts so that they are most effective.”

Sarah Saunders, who will serve as Audubon’s lead investigator, said it important to look at the affects of climate change and land use on birds.

“Independently, there were people asking, ‘What is climate change doing to birds?’ or ‘What is land use doing?’ Now, those questions are coming together,” Saunders said. “We’ll be looking at data from the last 20 years and trying to predict what will be happening by midcentury and end-of-century. We expect these predictions will be a lot more robust than what’s currently available because we’ll be integrating all of the best available data from across the continental U.S.”