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Habitat use has important consequences for avian reproductive success and survival. In coastal areas with recreational activity, human disturbance may limit use of otherwise suitable habitat. Snowy plovers Charadrius nivosus have a patchy breeding distribution along the coastal areas on the Florida Panhandle, USA. Our goal was to determine the relative effects of seasonal human disturbance and habitat requirements on snowy plover habitat use. We surveyed 303 sites for snowy plovers, human disturbance, and habitat features between January and July 2009 and 2010. We made multiple visits during three different sampling periods that corresponded to snowy plover breeding: pre-breeding, incubation, and brood-rearing and used multi-season occupancy models to examine whether human disturbance, habitat features, or both influenced site occupancy, colonization (probability of transition from an unoccupied site to an occupied site), and extinction (probability of transition from an occupied site to an unoccupied site). Snowy plover site occupancy and colonization was negatively associated with human disturbance and site extinction was positively associated with human disturbance. Interdune vegetation had a negative effect on occupancy and colonization, indicating that plovers were less likely to use areas with uniform, dense vegetation among dunes. Also, dune shape, beach debris, and access to low-energy foraging areas influenced site occupancy, colonization, and extinction. Plovers used habitat based on beach characteristics that provided stage-specific resource needs; however, human disturbance was the strongest predictor of site occupancy. In addition, vegetation plantings used to enhance dune rehabilitation may negatively impact plover site occupancy. Management actions that decrease human disturbance, such as symbolic fencing and signage, may increase the amount of breeding habitat available to snowy plovers on the Florida Panhandle and in other areas with high human activity. The specific areas that require this protection may vary across snowy plover life history stages.

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This document was originally published by Wiley-Blackwell in Ecology and Evolution. This work is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution License. Details regarding the use of this work can be found at: DOI: 10.1002/ece3.511

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