Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 1301–1311 | Cite as

Multiscale Habitat Selection of Wetland Birds in the Northern Gulf Coast



The spatial scale of habitat selection has become a prominent concept in ecology, but has received less attention in coastal ecology. In coastal marshes, broad-scale marsh types are defined by vegetation composition over thousands of hectares, water-level management is applied over hundreds of hectares, and fine-scale habitat is depicted by tens of meters. Individually, these scales are known to affect wetland fauna, but studies have not examined all three spatial scales simultaneously. We investigated wetland bird habitat selection at the three scales and compared single- and multiscale models. From 2009 to 2011, we surveyed marsh birds (i.e., Rallidae, bitterns, grebes), shorebirds, and wading birds in fresh and intermediate (oligohaline) coastal marsh in Louisiana and Texas, USA. Within each year, six repeated surveys of wintering, resident, and migratory breeding birds were conducted at >100 points (n = 304). The results revealed fine-scale factors, primarily water depth, were consistently better predictors than marsh type or management. However, 10 of 11 species had improved models with the three scales combined. Birds with a linear association with water depth were, correspondingly, most abundant with deeper fresh marsh and permanently impounded water. Conversely, intermediate marsh had a greater abundance of shallow water species, such as king rail Rallus elegans, least bittern Ixobrychus exilis, and sora Porzana carolina. These birds had quadratic relationships with water depth or no relationship. Overall, coastal birds were influenced by multiple scales corresponding with hydrological characteristics. The effects suggest the timing of drawdowns and interannual variability in spring water levels can greatly affect wetland bird abundance.


Drawdown Marsh birds Marsh management Rallidae Spatial scale Water depth 



Funding was provided by the US Geological Survey/US Fish and Wildlife Service with support from Gulf Coast Joint Venture. We are grateful for the advice of M. Kaller, P. Stouffer, and F. Rohwer. T. Cooper (USFWS) and two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on the manuscript. Texas Parks and Wildlife, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service provided housing, logistical support, and personnel time. For field assistance, we thank K. Leuenberger, A. Bevill, C. Faller, M. Oliver, M. Huber, E. Dancer, and S. Sears. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government. This study was conducted under the auspices of Louisiana State University protocol AE2009-09.

Supplementary material

12237_2013_9757_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (84 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 84 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Renewable Natural ResourcesLouisiana State University AgCenterBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.US Geological Survey, Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitLouisiana State University AgCenterBaton RougeUSA

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