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Using decision science for monitoring threatened western snowy plovers to inform recovery

February 22, 2021
Western Snowy Plovers (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) are federally listed under the US Endangered Species Act as Threatened. They occur along the US Pacific coastline and are threatened by habitat loss and destruction and excessive levels of predation and human disturbance. Populations have been monitored since the 1970s for distribution, reproduction, and survival. Since the species was federally listed in 1993 and a recovery plan was approved under the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2007, recovery actions have resulted in growing populations with increased presence at breeding and wintering sites throughout their Pacific Coast range. This success has created logistical challenges related to monitoring a recovering species and a need for identifying and instituting the best monitoring approach given recovery goals, budgets, and the likelihood of monitoring success. We devised and implemented a structured decision analysis to evaluate nine alternative monitoring strategies. The analysis included inviting plover biologists involved in monitoring to score each strategy according to a suite of performance measures. Using multi-attribute utility theory, we combined scores across the performance measures for each monitoring strategy, and applied weighted utility values to show the implications of tradeoffs and find optimal decisions. We evaluated four scenarios for weighting the monitoring objectives and how risk attitude affects optimal decisions. This resulted in identifying six strategies that best meet recovery needs and were Pareto optimal for cost-effective monitoring. Results were presented to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, responsible for monitoring as well as for consideration to ensure consistent monitoring methods across the species’ range. Our use of structured decision-making can be applied to cases of other species once imperiled but now on the road to recovery. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Using decision science for monitoring threatened western snowy plovers to inform recovery
DOI 10.3390/ani11020569
Authors Bruce G. Marcot, James E. Lyons, Daniel C Elbert, Laura Todd
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Animals
Index ID 70218796
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; Eastern Ecological Science Center