Great Plains Shorebird Project Great Plains Shorebird Project Great Plains Shorebird Project Great Plains Shorebird Project Great Plains Shorebird Project Great Plains Shorebird Project Great Plains Shorebird Project Great Plains Shorebird Project



Although much of our work has been centered on breeding shorebirds, most of these species spend the lion’s share of their time on their wintering grounds. These wintering habitats, however, are also of high conservation concern as they have recently experienced substantial, but localized environmental disasters (e.g., Deepwater Horizon oil spill, increased hurricane activity) as well as widespread anthropogenic disturbances (e.g., shoreline modifications, recreational use). Additionally, the relative impacts of these disturbance on population dynamics have been difficult to quantify, and conservation measures aimed at mitigating the impacts of these disturbances on shorebird populations are often controversial or not effective. To address these knowledge gaps and conservation concerns, our lab has been involved with a series of projects throughout the Gulf of Mexico, southern Atlantic coast, and Caribbean focused on assessing the temporal and spatial variability in shorebird demographic processes and physiology during the non-breeding season.
During our study of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its effects on piping plovers, we observed a 50% mortality event at one of our control sites in Georgia associated with an extended period of freezing temperatures that coincided with an unexpected decline in the endangered Great Lakes breeding population. Although cold temperatures and storms have been linked to lowered survival of Great Lakes birds, weather may not be the only factor contributing to lower survival rates. A recent review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the threats to piping plovers and their habitats suggested that their migratory and overwintering habitats continued to be degraded due to artificial shoreline modification, climate change, and increased human recreational use. Local disturbance regimes, however, are highly variable throughout the southern Atlantic coast, which provides an excellent opportunity to assess the relative impacts of these types of disturbances on various aspects of shorebird demography. With our collaborators, we have been monitoring disturbance and piping plover behavior and demography on a series of sites throughout Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and the Bahamas that experience widely different levels of anthropogenic disturbances.
One of the hypothesized outcomes of climate change is increased storminess or hurricane activity on our coastal systems. Hurricanes may impact shorebirds through direct mortality (i.e., high winds, ocean surges), however, they may also indirectly influence shorebird demography through trophic-level (e.g., altering food availability, predator abundance) or geo-physical (e.g., absolute habitat availability) processes. Data collection efforts on American oystercatchers in coastal Georgia and piping plovers in the Bahamas prior to and following the landfall of Hurricane Matthew in September of 2016 provide us an opportunity to assess the immediate demographic impacts of a powerful hurricane on shorebirds, as well as investigate the potential behavioral responses (e.g., site fidelity) of shorebirds to a major disturbance event.
This work is a collaborative, multi-agency effort including staff from the VT Shorebird Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (South Carolina, Michigan, Massachusetts, and North Dakota), Little Saint Simon’s Island, the University of Georgia, the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the University of Minnesota, Environment Canada, the National Park Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Canadian Wildlife Service, the National Audubon Society, Bahamas National Trust, North Carolina Audubon, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.