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Loss of Coastal Islands Along Florida’s Big Bend Region: Implications for Breeding American Oystercatchers

Abstract

Many coastal-dependent species have undergone large-scale population declines due to impacts from habitat loss, including American oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus). Islands along the Big Bend region of Florida’s Gulf Coast provide important nesting habitat for oystercatchers, but reproductive success here is low and habitat degradation and loss are a major concern. To determine rates and characteristics of habitat loss, we quantified changes in island sizes within two major breeding areas of the Big Bend: the Barge Canal spoil islands and natural islands at Cedar Key. We digitized aerial photographs from the past ~ 40 years, measured area and shoreline retreat of nesting islands, and identified trends over time by fitting linear mixed effects models. The total area of the ten Barge Canal spoil islands decreased by 55% between 1979 and 2016. At Cedar Key, the total area of the six islands measured decreased by 39% between 1974 and 2016, 85% of which occurred after 1995, indicating an increase in erosion rates correlated with oyster reef declines. Changes in available nesting habitat varied between the Barge Canal and Cedar Key islands due to differences in physical attributes; however, all islands significantly decreased in size over time. Given the long life and high site fidelity of American oystercatchers, these islands may currently be acting as an ecological trap for this species. Climate change, sea-level rise, and loss of oyster reefs are likely to continue to drive oystercatcher habitat loss throughout their range; thus, creation and restoration of oyster reefs and nesting islands will become increasingly important.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the US Fish and Wildlife Service, American Oystercatcher Working Group, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, The Cross Florida Greenway State Recreation and Conservation Area, Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, Florida Shorebird Alliance and the Nature Coast Shorebird Partnership. Special thanks to both Bill Pine and John Jaeger for their guidance in our data analyses and manuscript review, and Joe Marchionno, Andrew Townsend, Julia Magill plus many others who contributed to the success of this project. We thank Patrick Jodice and Andrew Cox for their reviews of this manuscript. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Funding

This work was funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station, with logistical support from the US Geological Survey, Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. This study was performed under the auspices of the University of Florida IACUC study #201709798.

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Correspondence to Abby Powell.

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Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Communicated by James Lovvorn

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Vitale, N., Brush, J. & Powell, A. Loss of Coastal Islands Along Florida’s Big Bend Region: Implications for Breeding American Oystercatchers. Estuaries and Coasts 44, 1173–1182 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-020-00811-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-020-00811-3

Keywords

  • Dredge spoil islands
  • Climate change
  • Haematopus palliatus
  • Sea-level rise
  • Habitat loss