Science Center Objects

Policy-makers, individuals from government agencies, and natural resource managers are under increasing pressure to manage changing coastal areas to meet social, economic, and natural resource demands, particularly under a regime of sea-level rise. Scientific knowledge of coastal processes and habitat-use can support decision-makers as they balance these often-conflicting human and ecological needs. An interdisciplinary USGS team is conducting research and developing tools to identify suitable coastal habitats for species of concern, such as the piping plover (Charadrius melodus), under a variety of sea-level rise scenarios.

Gateway National Recreation Area shown here on the Rockaway Peninsula adjacent to New York City.

The beach-dependent shorebirds project at the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center models current and future habitat availability for nesting shorebirds in an effort to map current and likely future habitat availability on a range of sites along the U.S. Atlantic coast. Sites include beaches with a high human-presence, such as the Gateway National Recreation Area shown here on the Rockaway Peninsula adjacent to New York City.

Beach-dependent Shorebirds Project Objectives

iPlover data collection: Understanding and managing dynamic coastal landscapes for beach-dependent species requires biological and geological data across the range of relevant environments and habitats. These data are often challenging to acquire and often have limited focus due to resource constraints, are collected by non-specialists, or lack observational uniformity. We developed an open-source smartphone application called iPlover that standardizes the collection of biogeomorphic information at piping plover (Charadrius melodus) nest sites on coastal beaches and reduces other data acquisition challenges.

Image of USGS scientist on a beach recording piping plover habitat characteristics

USGS scientist Sara Zeigler records habitat characteristics in iPlover at an ‘exclosed’ nest. On some beaches, managers erect netting around nests to protect eggs/chicks and adults from predators, allowing movement of chicks and parents to and from the nest but excluding predators

During the piping plover breeding seasons (April – July) of 2014, 2015 and 2016, iPlover was used to collect and record landcover characteristics at 2,099 nest locations and 1,952 random points on 97 beaches and barrier islands from Maine to North Carolina. This dataset was collected in partnership with federal and state agencies, universities, and private organizations.

Predicting piping plover habitat:  Understanding patterns of habitat selection across a species’ geographic distribution can be critical for adequately managing populations and planning for habitat loss and related threats. The iPlover dataset was used to develop a model that predicts the probability that a combination of landcover characteristics at a given location will be associated with piping plover nesting habitat. Landcover characteristics considered include Geomorphic Setting, Substrate Type, Vegetation Type, Vegetation Density, Distance to Foraging, Distance to Ocean, Beach Width, and Elevation.

Using elevation datasets (e.g., lidar) and orthoimagery, these landcover characteristics are mapped for an entire area of interest, such as a barrier island. The Piping Plover Habitat model can then evaluate combinations of landcover characteristics to map the probability that each map cell supports piping plover nesting habitat. These maps are currently being created for 21 beaches and barrier islands, referred to as ‘Deep Dive Sites’, along the U.S. Atlantic coast.

Forecasting piping plover habitat under sea-level rise: Project researchers are conducting research needed to create tools for identifying suitable coastal habitats for species of concern or, conversely, areas of high hazard exposure for humans and infrastructure today and into the future. The most likely (a) shoreline change rate, (b) barrier island characteristics, and (c) piping plover habitat availability are forecasted under different SLR rates and storm regimes. This framework portrays results as probabilities, which can inform decision-making and highlight knowledge gaps and research avenues. This research is also generalizable to a variety of forecasting problems for coastal systems, including investigations of habitat availability for turtles, birds, and plants as well as the potential hazard exposure for human infrastructure along coastal environments throughout the United States. Piping plover habitat forecast maps are currently being created for 21 beaches and barrier islands, referred to as ‘Deep Dive Sites’, along the U.S. Atlantic coast.

 

Parameters considered in models for shoreline change

Parameters considered in models for shoreline change, barrier island characteristics, and piping plover habitat availability. Together, these three models allow for forecasts of most likely future barrier island characteristics and piping plover habitat availability given sea-level rise.