Response of a Threatened Shorebird to Severe Storms

Science Center Objects

The federally protected Atlantic Coast Piping Plover relies on habitats that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. USGS works to understand how these changes have affected nesting habitat and the reproductive success of the shorebird.

 

Satellite image of a hurricane

Satellite image of a hurricane

The Science Issue and Relevance: Fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs of Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) were detected on the Atlantic coast in 2012. The Atlantic Coast Piping Plover is a federally-listed, threatened shorebird that inhabits beaches of barrier islands, ocean fronts, bays and inlets, tidal creeks/marshes, peninsulas, and sand bars. These are precisely the habitats that were altered by Hurricane Sandy. The storm eroded or flattened the shoreline of inlets and tidal creeks, breached barrier islands, altered the amount and topography of sand on beaches, washed dunes to the backside of barrier islands, and created sand/gravel overwash habitat on marshes. These changes to the coastal fringes may diminish nesting opportunities for plovers or may create new nesting habitat. Understanding the reproductive response of Piping Plovers to changes in beach habitats will better inform decision-making as plans are made for beach restoration in areas affected by severe storms.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: A combined field data, photo-interpretation, and modelling approach will be used to study reproductive success in Piping Plovers. Monitoring of Piping Plover productivity at Little Beach Island and Holgate Units of Edwin B. Forsythe NWR has been an integral part of refuge management since 1991. This long-term data set will serve as our pre-storm baseline for nest and fledgling survival. The same field protocol will be used to collect post-storm data in 2013-2015. A Bayesian hierarchical nest survival model will be used to estimate daily survival for the nest until hatching, and then separately estimate daily survival for each chick to fledging. A storm component will be incorporated to evaluate effects of major storm events (e.g., Hurricane Sandy, nor’easters) over a 24 year period on plover reproductive success.

Juvenile Piper Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Juvenile Piper Plover (Charadrius melodus)

Future Steps: Our partners expressed a need for an automated procedure for calculating estimates of Piping Plover nest and brood daily survival rates. We initiated collaboration with the Advanced Application Team at WARC to develop a web application for meeting that need. Our goal is to create a web-based portal where biologists can enter specific plover nesting data. The data are then archived, and daily nest and brood survival estimates are automatically produced using Dinsmore’s (2002) nest survival model within Program MARK. The web portal is being designed for our partners; however, additional features have been included that will make the portal expandable to other areas (e.g., other wildlife refuges, parks, etc.) and allow for data reporting at various levels (e.g., site, state, recovery region).