Effects on Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus Ord) Foraging Habitat from Sea-Level Rise: A Geographic Information Systems Approach




Lostritto, Peter

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Sea-level rise from global climate change is becoming increasingly important especially in geographic sciences, where space and time are taken into account. Globally, the mid- Atlantic shoreline of the United States is expected to be at greater risk than the observed global sea-level rise due to localized sinking of the land surface. The shorebird species Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), an endangered species, is predicted to be particularly at risk from the estimated rising sea levels due to their already vulnerable breeding habitat within their distribution along the United States Atlantic coast. Traditionally, research has examined the threats to C. melodus nesting habitats; however, one of their most important foraging habitats, coastal wetlands, which is often depended upon by recently hatched chicks, is preferentially at risk from future rising sea levels. This study investigates how wetlands within C. melodus predicted suitable habitat may be affected from rising sea levels for up to 120 years into the future (from 2006). The specific objectives are threefold: (i) parameterize a functional habitat suitability model for C. melodus; (ii) evaluate the accuracy of the habitat suitability model in field sites; and (iii) investigate the prospective effects of sea-level rise on wetlands within the predicted suitable habitat of C. melodus at time intervals of 30, 60, and 120 years. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) were used as a tool to predict future outcomes to C. melodus wetlands foraging habitat from sea-level rise. Maps for three different locations within Piping Plover breeding distribution (Cape May, Assateague NWR, and Chincoteague NWR) were created showing outcomes for several sea-level rise scenarios. Results indicate that effects from sea-level rise on C. melodus wetlands habitat vary based on location. Two of the locations (Assateague NWR and Chincoteague NWR), which are barrier islands, are predicted to be negatively affected from sea-level rise (73- 94% net loss for Assateague NWR and 48-90% net loss for Chincoteague NWR in 120 years), whereas the Cape May location, which is not a barrier island, is predicted to have little to no negative impact from sea-level rise on the wetlands within Piping Plover predicted suitable habitat. From these investigations of three locations in the mid- Atlantic region, it is concluded that the effect of sea level rise in the future on wetlands foraging habitat for C. melodus is site specific, with two of the three locations exhibiting significant losses (48-94%) in habitat within 120 years. Given that this species is already endangered, this conclusion indicates that future changes in sea level will place an additional stress on the species.



Piping plover, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Sea-level rise, Suitable habitat, Wetlands, Charadrius melodus