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Factors influencing expanded use of urban marine habitats by foraging wading birds


Urban marine habitats are often utilized by wildlife for foraging and other activities despite surrounding anthropogenic impact or disturbance. However little is known of the ecological factors that determine habitat value of these and other remnant natural habitats. We examined the preferential use of urban marine habitats in a northeast US estuary to try to elucidate the factors driving enhanced foraging activity at these sites. Using a bioenergetic model, we compared energy intake to energy expenditure and examined differences in behavior and foraging success of great egrets Ardea alba at three urban and three rural salt marshes in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island USA. Mean per site available nekton energy averaged 4.44 ± 0.97 GJ site−1 and was significantly higher at urban than at rural sites. While energy expenditure by birds was similar across all sites, mean strike and prey capture rate were significantly greater at urban sites, and 70.1 ± 12.2 % of strikes by egrets at urban sites were successful. Egrets foraging at urban sites consumed significantly more energy (23.2 ± 6.62 W bird−1) than those at rural sites. Model results indicated a net energy gain by egrets foraging at urban sites, versus a net energy loss at rural sites. Our results may help explain previously observed increases in the numbers of egrets foraging at urban marine habitats, and help provide input into decisions about the extent to which these areas should be considered for restoration or protection.

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We thank R. Cournoyer and J. West for their assistance with field data collection. We also thank M. Nightingale, A. Oczkowski, and K. Lellis-Dibble for providing comments on the manuscript. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation. Although the research described in this article has been funded wholly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it has not been subjected to Agency-level review. Therefore, it does not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency. This is the Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Atlantic Ecology Division contribution number AED-12-014.

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Correspondence to Richard A. McKinney.

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McKinney, R.A., Raposa, K.B. Factors influencing expanded use of urban marine habitats by foraging wading birds. Urban Ecosyst 16, 411–426 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-012-0274-z

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  • Ardeidae
  • Bioenergetic model
  • Human disturbance
  • Narragansett Bay
  • Urban marine habitats
  • Wading birds