NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A highly-accomplished professor of biology at Rutgers University, who has completed and published numerous research studies on many nongame and endangered wildlife species, including marine birds, shorebirds, herpetofauna, and butterflies, has been named this year’s recipient of New Jersey Audubon’s “Richard Kane Conservation Award.”

Dr. Joanna Burger is honored for a lifetime of wildlife research work, in which she has focused on New Jersey conservation issues and has made invaluable scientific and educational contributions to New Jersey wildlife conservation. Burger has served on New Jersey's Endangered and Nongame Species Advisory Committee since 1980. 

Dr. Burger, a resident of Somerset, was honored at the 70th anniversary of the New Jersey Audubon annual fall meeting, held Oct. 21-23 in Cape May.

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“I am very pleased to receive this award for lifetime conservation, as I have spent 45 years working on the Jersey shore to preserve habitat for a wide range of birds in danger,” she said. “Preserving birds in a coastal habitat is an ongoing process because of the increasing human pressure all the time. If we can continue to preserve habitats, we can preserve these populations.”

The professor noted she has done considerable work on the Delaware River for 25 years, in an effort to preserve the endangered Red Knot, a delicate bird which feeds on Horseshoe Crab eggs. Because of over-harvesting, the Horseshoe Crab population has been dwindling, having a drastic effect on the shore bird.

The decline in Red Knot populations has chiefly been caused by the lack of sufficient eggs for foraging birds on the Delaware Bay. Prior to the over-harvest of Horseshoe Crabs, the Red Knot weight rate increase on the Delaware Bay was the highest in the world, recorded at nearly 9 grams a day in the late 1990s. The rate declined to a low of 2 grams a day in 2002. Low weight gain rates results in fewer birds reaching the arctic breeding grounds and higher adult mortality.

Dr. Burger has been calling for continued conservation, and a stronger understanding of life history, to protect the Red Knot.

“Dr. Burger is internationally recognized for her long-term studies of the behavioral ecology of colonial-nesting waterbirds, her cutting-edge work with waterbirds as indicators of ecosystem health, and for being a mentor and role model to more than 54 graduate students, many of whom have become conservation leaders in New Jersey,” said Eric Stiles, president & CEO of New Jersey Audubon.

Stiles said that Burger’s work has contributed significantly to further the state’s understanding of behavioral biology, bird ecology, ecotoxicology, contaminant risk analysis and environmental policy. 

Over the last 35 years during her tenure at Rutgers University, she has been a leader in scientific research, community service and teaching.  Her research has resulted in more than 700 publications in peer-reviewed journals, and 20 books.  These endeavors have been supported by a variety of sources, including federal and state agencies and private foundations.

“In recent years, New Jersey Audubon has been pleased to collaborate with Dr. Burger on several initiatives to evaluate the potential adverse effects of human disturbance on shorebirds staging in Delaware Bay during spring migration and on shorebirds nesting along the state’s southern coastlines,” Stiles said. “Her contribution has been enormous and immeasurable.”