Storm Impact Assessments on Coastal Bird Populations, Behavior, and Nesting along the Outer Banks Barrier Islands, North Carolina

Science Center Objects

Using historic maps and contemporary imagery, we will quantify and synthesize existing data on the distribution and abundance of shorebirds in North Carolina and changes in habitats related to storms, such as Hurricane Sandy; coastal development, such as the Intracoastal Waterway; inlet modifications; and shoreline erosion to give us a better understanding of historic trends for shorebirds and their coastal habitats.

Piper plover on the North Carolina barrier islands
Piper plover on the North Carolina barrier islands

The Science Issue and Relevance: In the face of sea level rise and as climate change conditions increase the frequency and intensity of tropical storms along the north-Atlantic Coast, coastal areas will become increasingly vulnerable to storm damage, and the decline of already-threatened species could be exacerbated. Predictions about response of coastal birds to effects of hurricanes will be essential for anticipating and countering environmental impacts. This project assesses coastal bird populations, behavior, and nesting in Hurricane Sandy-impacted North Carolina barrier islands. The project comprises three components: 1) ground-based and airborne LIDAR analyses to examine site specific selection criteria of coastal birds; 2) NWI classification habitat mapping of DOI lands to examine habitat change associated with Hurricane Sandy, particularly in relation to coastal bird habitat; and 3) a GIS-based synthesis of how patterns of coastal bird distribution and abundance and their habitats have been shaped by storms such as Hurricane Sandy, coastal development, population density, and shoreline management over the past century.

American oystercatcher on the North Carolina barrier islands
American oystercatcher on the North Carolina barrier islands

Methodology for Addressing the Issue:  Using historic maps and contemporary imagery, we will quantify and synthesize existing data on the distribution and abundance of shorebirds in North Carolina and changes in habitats related to storms, such as Hurricane Sandy; coastal development, such as the Intracoastal Waterway; inlet modifications; and shoreline erosion to give us a better understanding of historic trends for shorebirds and their coastal habitats. Historic data on the distribution and abundance of shorebirds are available from a variety of sources and include bird species identification, location, activity, habitat, and band data. Habitat maps of federal lands in the study area will be created using National Wetlands Inventory mapping standards to assess storm impacts on available nesting habitat.

Ground-based LIDAR and high-accuracy GPS data will be collected to develop a new methodology to estimate shorebird nest elevation and microtopography to make predictions about nest site selection and success. Microtopography information collected from LIDAR data in the area surrounding nest site locations will be used to analyze site specific nesting habitat selection criteria related to topography, substrate (coarseness of sand or cobble), and vegetation cover.

Example of storm impacts on nest locations on barrier islands
Example of storm impacts on nest locations on barrier islands

Future Steps: The data collected early in the study will be used in future models to assess storm impacts on nest locations, predict long-term population impacts, and influence landscape-scale habitat management strategies that might lessen future impacts of hurricanes on coastal birds and lead to better restoration alternatives.

 

 

Ground-based LIDAR and high-accuracy GPS
Ground-based LIDAR and high-accuracy GPS