, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 743-757

Importance of landscape heterogeneity to wood storks in Florida Everglades

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Abstract

Declines in populations of and reproductive success of wood storks and other wading birds have occurred in the Florida Everglades over the past several decades. These declines have been concurrent with major changes in the Everglades’ landscape characteristics. Among the plausible hypotheses that relate to landscape change are the following: (1) general loss of habitat; (2) heavy loss of specific habitat, namely, short-hydroperiod wetlands that provide high prey availability early in the breeding season; and (3) an increase in frequency of major drying out of the central slough areas, which can affect prey availability late in the breeding season.

These three hypotheses were compared using an individual-based model of wood stork (Mycteria americana) reproduction. This model simulated the behavior and energetics of each individual wood stork in a breeding colony on 15-min time intervals. Changes in water depth and prey availability occurred on daily time steps. Simulation results showed a threshold response in reproductive success to reduction of wetland heterogeneity. Model comparisons in which (1) only short-hydroperiod wetlands were removed and (2) wetlands of both long and short hydroperiods were removed showed that, for the same loss of total area, the specific habitat removal caused a much greater reduction in wood stork reproduction, indicating hypothesis 2 may be a more likely explanation than hypothesis 1. Reduction of initial prey availability in the central slough areas (simulating frequent drying; hypothesis 3) reduced fledging success by an average of more than 90% in the model.