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Functional wetland loss drives emerging risks to waterbird migration networks

March 10, 2022

Migratory waterbirds (i.e., shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl) rely on a diffuse continental network of wetland habitats to support annual life cycle needs. Emerging threats of climate and land-use change raise new concerns over the sustainability of these habitat networks as water scarcity triggers cascading ecological effects impacting wetland habitat availability. Here we use important waterbird regions in Oregon and California, United States, as a model system to examine patterns of landscape change impacting wetland habitat networks in western North America. Wetland hydrology and flooded agricultural habitats were monitored monthly from 1988 to 2020 using satellite imagery to quantify the timing and duration of inundation—a key delimiter of habitat niche values associated with waterbird use. Trends were binned by management practice and wetland hydroperiods (semi-permanent, seasonal, and temporary) to identify differences in their climate and land-use change sensitivity. Wetland results were assessed using 33 waterbird species to detect non-linear effects of network change across a diversity of life cycle and habitat needs. Pervasive loss of semi-permanent wetlands was an indicator of systemic functional decline. Shortened hydroperiods caused by excessive drying transitioned semi-permanent wetlands to seasonal and temporary hydrologies—a process that in part counterbalanced concurrent seasonal and temporary wetland losses. Expansion of seasonal and temporary wetlands associated with closed-basin lakes offset wetland declines on other public and private lands, including wildlife refuges. Diving ducks, black terns, and grebes exhibited the most significant risk of habitat decline due to semi-permanent wetland loss that overlapped important migration, breeding, molting, and wintering periods. Shorebirds and dabbling ducks were beneficiaries of stable agricultural practices and top-down processes of functional wetland declines that operated collectively to maintain habitat needs. Outcomes from this work provide a novel perspective of wetland ecosystem change affecting waterbirds and their migration networks. Understanding the complexity of these relationships will become increasingly important as water scarcity continues to restructure the timing and availability of wetland resources.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Functional wetland loss drives emerging risks to waterbird migration networks
DOI 10.3389/fevo.2022.844278
Authors J Patrick Donnelly, Johnnie N Moore, Michael L. Casazza, Shea P Coons
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Series Number
Index ID 70230138
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center