Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)

8-2011

Type of Culminating Activity

Thesis

Degree Title

Master of Science in Biology

Department

Biology

Major Advisor

Julie A. Heath, Ph.D.

Abstract

Snowy plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) are listed as threatened by the State of Florida, and have been a species of growing concern among wildlife management agencies. The population of snowy plovers breeding along the Florida Panhandle has a patchy distribution, and large stretches of private and public land go virtually unused by plovers. Further, there is a strong negative correlation between coastal engineering projects and snowy plover nest site use. The relationship between coastal engineering and snowy plover nesting distribution is unclear, however, because most engineering projects have occurred on developed beaches with high human use. My objectives were to better understand the relationships among beach characteristics, human disturbance, and snowy plover habitat selection and to determine if coastal engineering, human disturbance, or a combination between these two factors were limiting plover distributions. I sampled beach characteristics, human traffic, and plover occupancy patterns on 304 sites from January-July in 2009 and 2010. In these months, plovers were in pre-breeding, nesting (egg-laying and incubation), and brood-rearing stages. I used multi-season occupancy models that allow for colonization and emigration from sites between breeding stages to examine effects of seasonal changes in human activity and to allow for changes in stage-specific resource requirements of snowy plovers. High human use and high vegetation density were the main factors that discouraged snowy plover site selection during all time periods. Other factors, such as the amount of debris on a beach and access to the bay side of barrier islands, positively affected the probability of occupancy, mainly during the nesting stage. Coastal engineering that stabilized primary dunes, such as dune restoration and vegetation planting, were associated with dense vegetation, a beach characteristic that discouraged snowy plover occupancy throughout the breeding season. Projects that added sand to beach fronts (beach nourishment and emergency berms) were less likely to influence beach characteristics that contribute to plover habitat selection. Management projects interested in increasing suitable snowy plover habitat should focus on minimizing human traffic and refining dune stabilization techniques to better meet plover resource needs.

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