Coastal Marsh Bird Habitat Selection and Responses to Hurricane Sandy

Abstract

Wetlands provide numerous ecosystem functions such as water purification, nutrient cycling, and wildlife habitat. Avian populations are indicators of wetland health, and understanding their responses to extreme events can aid in targeting restoration efforts following disturbance. Here, we assessed the habitat selection of six coastal wetland bird species (American Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Glossy Ibis, Snowy Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron) related to an extreme weather event, Hurricane Sandy. We used Discrete Choice Resource Selection Functions to estimate habitat selection. Results showed species probability of use increased with lower elevation and slope, and closer proximity to marsh, salt marsh, Phragmites, and protected areas. Estimates of marsh dieback from Hurricane Sandy occurred disproportionately in areas with higher probability of species use. Species were observed farther from the coast and at higher elevations in the four breeding seasons after (2013–2016) compared to before (2000–2012) Hurricane Sandy. Our results indicate that although high suitability areas were affected by the storm, these six wetland bird species may have responded by moving inland and to higher elevation. Understanding how coastal wetland birds respond to storm events is important for conservation planning, particularly as storm frequency is projected to increase in the future.

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Acknowledgements

Support for this work was provided by U.S. Geological Survey Hurricane Sandy Supplemental Funds. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Species occurrence data sources are as follows: BISON (https://bison.usgs.gov), U.S. Geological Survey Waterbird Monitoring Partnership at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/cwb/database/), and data from the New Jersey Biotics database were obtained via a data request from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife, New Jersey Endangered & Nongame Species Program (https://www.njfishandwildlife.com/ensphome.htm), Biotics Database Digital Dataset. Our data are deposited with ScienceBase [https://www.sciencebase.gov/catalog/], https://doi.org/10.5066/F77M063T.

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Benscoter, A.M., Beerens, J.M. & Romañach, S.S. Coastal Marsh Bird Habitat Selection and Responses to Hurricane Sandy. Wetlands 40, 799–810 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-019-01230-2

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Keywords

  • Avian ecology
  • Coastal wetland bird
  • Resource selection
  • Habitat suitability
  • Hurricane Sandy