Great egret (Ardea alba) habitat selection and foraging behavior in a temperate estuary: Comparing natural wetlands to areas with shellfish aquaculture.
ABSTRACT: Movement by animals to obtain resources and avoid predation often depends on natural cycles, and human alteration of the landscape may disrupt or enhance the utility of different habitats or resources to animals through the phases of these cycles. We studied habitat selection by GPS/accelerometer-tagged great egrets (Ardea alba) foraging in areas with shellfish aquaculture infrastructure and adjacent natural wetlands, while accounting for tide-based changes in water depth. We used integrated step selection analysis to test the prediction that egrets would express stronger selection for natural wetlands (eelgrass, tidal marsh, and other tidal wetlands) than for shellfish aquaculture areas. We also evaluated differences in foraging behavior among shellfish aquaculture areas and natural wetlands by comparing speed travelled (estimated from distance between GPS locations) and energy expended (Overall Dynamic Body Acceleration) while foraging. We found evidence for stronger overall habitat selection for eelgrass than for shellfish aquaculture areas, with results conditional on water depth: egrets used shellfish aquaculture areas, but only within a much narrower range of water depths than they used eelgrass and other natural wetlands. We found only slight differences in our metrics of foraging behavior among shellfish aquaculture areas and natural wetlands. Our results suggest that although great egrets appear to perceive or experience shellfish aquaculture areas as suitable foraging habitat during some conditions, those areas provide less foraging opportunity throughout tidal cycles than natural wetlands. Thus, expanding the footprint of shellfish aquaculture into additional intertidal areas may reduce foraging opportunities for great egrets across the range of tidal cycles. Over longer time scales, the ways in which natural wetlands and shellfish aquaculture areas adapt to rising sea levels (either through passive processes or active management) may change the ratios of these wetland types and consequently change the overall value of Tomales Bay to foraging great egrets.
Project description:Many natural wetlands have been converted to human-influenced wetlands. In some instances, human-influenced wetlands could provide complementary habitats for waterbirds, compensating for the loss of natural wetlands. Inner Deep Bay in Hong Kong is composed of both natural and human-influenced wetlands and is under immense development pressure. From an ecology perspective, we need to understand if different wetland types play the same ecological role. To achieve this, we tracked nine little egrets (Egretta garzetta) using GPS loggers for 14 months to study their spatial ecology, home range, movement and habitat use. We found that over 88% of the home range of all individuals comprised of wetlands (commercial fishponds, mangrove, gei wai, channel, and intertidal mudflat). Among these wetland types, nearly all (seven of nine) individuals preferred commercial fishponds over other habitats in all seasons. Little egrets exhibited seasonal movement and habitat use among seasons, with largest home range, greatest movement, and most frequent visits to commercial fishponds in winter compared to spring and autumn. Our results highlight the significant role of commercial fishponds, providing a feeding ground for little egrets. However, other wetland types cannot be ignored, as they were also used considerably. These findings underscore the importance of maintaining a diversity of wetland types as alternative foraging and breeding habitats.
Project description:Seagrass beds provide a variety of ecosystem services, both within and outside the bounds of the habitat itself. Here we use environmental DNA (eDNA) amplicons to analyze a broad cross-section of taxa from ecological communities in and immediately surrounding eelgrass (Zostera marina). Sampling seawater along transects extending alongshore outward from eelgrass beds, we demonstrate that eDNA provides meter-scale resolution of communities in the field. We evaluate eDNA abundance indices for 13 major phylogenetic groups of marine and estuarine taxa along these transects, finding highly local changes linked with proximity to Z. marina for a diverse group of dinoflagellates, and for no other group of taxa. Eelgrass habitat is consistently associated with dramatic reductions in dinoflagellate abundance both within the contiguous beds and for at least 15 m outside, relative to nearby sites without eelgrass. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that eelgrass-associated communities have allelopathic effects on dinoflagellates, and that these effects can extend in a halo beyond the bounds of the contiguous beds. Because many dinoflagellates are capable of forming harmful algal blooms (HABs) toxic to humans and other animal species, the apparent salutary effect of eelgrass habitat on neighboring waters has important implications for public health as well as shellfish aquaculture and harvesting.
Project description:Coastal wetlands, composed of coastal vegetation and non-vegetated tidal flats, play critical roles in biodiversity conservation, food production, and the global economy. Coastal wetlands in China are changing quickly due to land reclamation from sea, aquaculture, industrialization, and urbanization. However, accurate and updated maps of coastal wetlands (including vegetation and tidal flats) in China are unavailable, and the detailed spatial distribution of coastal wetlands are unknown. Here, we developed a new pixel- and phenology-based algorithm to identify and map coastal wetlands in China for 2018 using time series Landsat imagery (2,798 ETM+/OLI images) and the Google Earth Engine (GEE). The resultant map had a very high overall accuracy (98%). There were 7,474.6 km<sup>2</sup> of coastal wetlands in China in 2018, which included 5,379.8 km<sup>2</sup> of tidal flats, 1,856.4 km<sup>2</sup> of deciduous wetlands, and 238.3 km<sup>2</sup> of evergreen wetlands. Jiangsu Province had the largest area of coastal wetlands in China, followed by Shandong, Fujian, and Zhejiang Provinces. Our study demonstrates the high potential of time series Landsat images, pixel- and phenology-based algorithm, and GEE for mapping coastal wetlands at large scales. The resultant coastal wetland maps at 30-m spatial resolution serve as the most current dataset for sustainable management, ecological assessments, and conservation of coastal wetlands in China.
Project description:Aquaculture of bivalve shellfish and seaweed represents a global opportunity to simultaneously advance coastal ecosystem recovery and provide substantive benefits to humanity. To identify marine ecoregions with the greatest potential for development of shellfish and seaweed aquaculture to meet this opportunity, we conducted a global spatial analysis using key environmental (e.g., nutrient pollution status), socioeconomic (e.g., governance quality), and human health factors (e.g., wastewater treatment prevalence). We identify a substantial opportunity for strategic sector development, with the highest opportunity marine ecoregions for shellfish aquaculture centered on Oceania, North America, and portions of Asia, and the highest opportunity for seaweed aquaculture distributed throughout Europe, Asia, Oceania, and North and South America. This study provides insights into specific areas where governments, international development organizations, and investors should prioritize new efforts to drive changes in public policy, capacity-building, and business planning to realize the ecosystem and societal benefits of shellfish and seaweed aquaculture.
Project description:Eelgrass (Zostera marina) has been designated an Ecologically Significant Species in Atlantic Canada. The development and rapid expansion of netpen finfish aquaculture into sensitive coastal habitats has raised concerns about the impacts of finfish aquaculture on eelgrass habitats. To date, no studies have been done in Atlantic Canada to examine these impacts or to identify potential monitoring variables that would aid in the development of specific conservation and management objectives. As a first step in addressing this gap, we examined differences in environmental variables, eelgrass bed structure and macroinfauna communities at increasing distances from a finfish farm in Port Mouton Bay, a reference site in adjacent Port Joli Bay, and published survey results from other sites without finfish farms along the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia. Drawing on research done elsewhere and our results, we then identified possible metrics for assessing and monitoring local impacts of finfish aquaculture on eelgrass habitats. Our results suggest some nutrient and organic enrichment, higher epiphyte loads, lower eelgrass cover and biomass, and lower macroinfauna biomass closer to the farm. Moreover, community structure significantly differed between sites with some species increasing and others decreasing closer to the farm. Changes in the macroinfauna community could be linked to observed differences in environmental and eelgrass bed variables. These results provide new insights into the potential impacts of finfish aquaculture on eelgrass habitats in Atlantic Canada. We recommend a suite of measures for assessment and monitoring that take into account response time to disturbance and account for different levels of eelgrass organizational response (from physiological to community).
Project description:Effective conservation and restoration of estuarine wetlands require accurate maps of their historical and current extent, as well as estimated losses of these valued habitats. Existing coast-wide tidal wetland mapping does not explicitly map historical tidal wetlands that are now disconnected from the tides, which represent restoration opportunities; nor does it use water level models or high-resolution elevation data (e.g. lidar) to accurately identify current tidal wetlands. To better inform estuarine conservation and restoration, we generated new maps of current and historical tidal wetlands for the entire contiguous U.S. West Coast (Washington, Oregon, and California). The new maps are based on an Elevation-Based Estuary Extent Model (EBEEM) that combines lidar digital elevation models (DEMs) and water level models to establish the maximum historical extent of tidal wetlands, representing a major step forward in mapping accuracy for restoration planning and analysis of wetland loss. Building from this new base, we also developed an indirect method for mapping tidal wetland losses, and created maps of these losses for 55 estuaries on the West Coast (representing about 97% of historical West Coast vegetated tidal wetland area). Based on these new maps, we estimated that total historical estuary area for the West Coast is approximately 735,000 hectares (including vegetated and nonvegetated areas), and that about 85% of vegetated tidal wetlands have been lost from West Coast estuaries. Losses were highest for major river deltas. The new maps will help interested groups improve action plans for estuarine wetland habitat restoration and conservation, and will also provide a better baseline for understanding and predicting future changes with projected sea level rise.
Project description:Although saline tidal wetlands cover less than a fraction of one percent of the earth's surface (~0.01%), they efficiently sequester organic carbon due to high rates of primary production coupled with surfaces that aggrade in response to sea level rise. Here, we report on multi-decadal changes (1972-2008) in the extent of tidal marshes and mangroves, and characterize soil carbon density and source, for five regions of tidal wetlands located on Baja California's Pacific coast. Land-cover change analysis indicates the stability of tidal wetlands relative to anthropogenic and climate change impacts over the past four decades, with most changes resulting from natural coastal processes that are unique to arid environments. The disturbance of wetland soils in this region (to a depth of 50 cm) would liberate 2.55 Tg of organic carbon (C) or 9.36 Tg CO?eq. Based on stoichiometry and carbon stable isotope ratios, the source of organic carbon in these wetland sediments is derived from a combination of wetland macrophyte, algal, and phytoplankton sources. The reconstruction of natural wetland dynamics in Baja California provides a counterpoint to the history of wetland destruction elsewhere in North America, and measurements provide new insights on the control of carbon sequestration in arid wetlands.
Project description:Urban expansion is a major threat to natural ecosystems but also creates novel opportunities that adaptable species can exploit. The grey-headed flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is a threatened, highly mobile species of bat that is increasingly found in human-dominated landscapes, leading to many management and conservation challenges. Flying-fox urbanisation is thought to be a result of diminishing natural foraging habitat or increasing urban food resources, or both. However, little is known about landscape utilisation of flying-foxes in human-modified areas, and how this may differ in natural areas. Here we examine positional data from 98 satellite-tracked P. poliocephalus for up to 5 years in urban and non-urban environments, in relation to vegetation data and published indices of foraging habitat quality. Our findings indicate that human-modified foraging landscapes sustain a large proportion of the P. poliocephalus population year-round. When individuals roosted in non-urban and minor-urban areas, they relied primarily on wet and dry sclerophyll forest, forested wetlands, and rainforest for foraging, and preferentially visited foraging habitat designated as high-quality. However, our results highlight the importance of human-modified foraging habitats throughout the species’ range, and particularly for individuals that roosted in major-urban environments. The exact plant species that exist in human-modified habitats are largely undocumented; however, where this information was available, foraging by P. poliocephalus was associated with different dominant plant species depending on whether individuals roosted in ‘urban’ or ‘non-urban’ areas. Overall, our results demonstrate clear differences in urban- and non-urban landscape utilisation by foraging P. poliocephalus. However, further research is needed to understand the exact foraging resources used, particularly in human-modified habitats, and hence what attracts flying-foxes to urban areas. Such information could be used to modify the urban foraging landscape, to assist long-term habitat management programs aimed at minimising human-wildlife conflict and maximising resource availability within and outside of urban environments.
Project description:Piscivorous avian species are the main source of catfish depredation at aquaculture facilities in Mississippi, resulting in the economic loss of millions of dollars every year. Most notable of these avian species are the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), great blue heron (Ardea herodias), and great egret (A. alba). Understanding why these species select specific ponds can increase management efficiency directed at avian dispersal and provide insight into their decision making with respect to foraging behavior. We collected species presence data on catfish ponds by flying 35 surveys from October through April of 2015-2017, during which an average of 973 catfish ponds were observed each year. We collected data associated with each pond's physical surroundings and contents and used occupancy modeling to determine their influence on avian occupancy probability. We also collected data associated with stocking practices and catfish health on a subset of ponds, and constructed resource selection functions to model their influence on avian presence. Pond area was positively related to occupancy probability of each species. Cormorant occupancy increased as pond distance from forest cover and activity centers, such as workshops and offices, increased. Distance to nearest activity center was positively related to egret occupancy, while distance to nearest forested area was negative. Ponds containing diseased catfish had an increased probability of use by both herons and egrets. In general, cormorants and egrets showed greater probability of use on the periphery of pond clusters. The abundance of catfish was positively related to cormorant and heron presence. Specific pond contents and characteristics influenced presence of each avian species in different ways, including fish species cultured, production methods, pond systems, and fish types. Many pond selection relationships were species-specific, illustrating inherent differences in their foraging ecology. Consequently, specific management actions aimed to reduce avian presence will depend on the targeted species.
Project description:Global warming is inducing major environmental changes in the Arctic. These changes will differentially affect species owing to differences in climate sensitivity and behavioural plasticity. Arctic endemic marine mammals are expected to be impacted significantly by ongoing changes in their key habitats owing to their long life cycles and dependence on ice. Herein, unique biotelemetry datasets for ringed seals (RS; Pusa hispida) and white whales (WW; Delphinapterus leucas) from Svalbard, Norway, spanning two decades (1995-2016) are used to investigate how these species have responded to reduced sea-ice cover and increased Atlantic water influxes. Tidal glacier fronts were traditionally important foraging areas for both species. Following a period with dramatic environmental change, RS now spend significantly more time near tidal glaciers, where Arctic prey presumably still concentrate. Conversely, WW spend significantly less time near tidal glacier fronts and display spatial patterns that suggest that they are foraging on Atlantic fishes that are new to the region. Differences in levels of dietary specialization and overall behavioural plasticity are likely reasons for similar environmental pressures affecting these species differently. Climate change adjustments through behavioural plasticity will be vital for species survival in the Arctic, given the rapidity of change and limited dispersal options.