Project

Suisun Marsh Waterfowl Project

Goal: At the USGS we work the California DWR to examine the trends in bird declines in Suisun Marsh, a critical habitat for wintering and breeding waterbirds in California. Our aim is to assess the habitat factors driving long-term survival of waterfowl, rails, and other birds in this important area with my role being to analyze a wealth of tracking data to develop an in-depth understanding of waterfowl movement.

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Project log

Michael Casazza
added a research item
Incubating birds must balance the needs of their developing embryos with their own physiological needs, and many birds accomplish this by taking periodic breaks from incubation. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and gadwall (Mareca strepera) hens typically take incubation recesses in the early morning and late afternoon, but recesses can also take place at night. We examined nocturnal incubation recess behavior for mallard and gadwall hens nesting in Suisun Marsh, California, USA, using iButton temperature dataloggers and continuous video monitoring at nests. Fourteen percent of all detected incubation recesses (N = 13,708) were nocturnal and took place on 20% of nest‐days (N = 8,668). Video monitoring showed that hens covered their eggs with down feathers when they initiated a nocturnal recess themselves as they would a diurnal recess, but they left the eggs uncovered in 94% of the nocturnal recesses in which predators appeared at nests. Thus, determining whether or not eggs were left uncovered during a recess can provide strong indication whether the recess was initiated by the hen (eggs covered) or a predator (eggs uncovered). Because nest temperature decreased more rapidly when eggs were left uncovered versus covered, we were able to characterize eggs during nocturnal incubation recesses as covered or uncovered using nest temperature data. Overall, we predicted that 75% of nocturnal recesses were hen‐initiated recesses (eggs covered) whereas 25% of nocturnal recesses were predator‐initiated recesses (eggs uncovered). Of the predator‐initiated nocturnal recesses, 56% were accompanied by evidence of depredation at the nest during the subsequent nest monitoring visit. Hen‐initiated nocturnal recesses began later in the night (closer to morning) and were shorter than predator‐initiated nocturnal recesses. Our results indicate that nocturnal incubation recesses occur regularly (14% of all recesses) and, similar to diurnal recesses, most nocturnal recesses (75%) are initiated by the hen rather than an approaching predator. We examined nocturnal incubation recess behavior for mallard and gadwall hens using iButton temperature dataloggers and continuous video monitoring at nests. Fourteen percent of all detected incubation recesses (N = 13,708) were nocturnal and took place on 20% of nest‐days (N = 8,668). Using the observation that nest temperature decreased more rapidly when eggs were left uncovered versus covered, we developed a method to characterize eggs during nocturnal incubation recesses as covered or uncovered using nest temperature data. Overall, we predicted that 75% of nocturnal recesses were normal, hen‐initiated recesses (eggs covered) whereas 25% of nocturnal recesses were predator‐initiated recesses (eggs uncovered).
Michael Casazza
added 10 research items
Northern pintail Anas acuta (hereafter pintail) populations wintering within Suisun Marsh, a large estuarine managed wetland near San Francisco Bay, California, USA, have declined markedly over the last four decades. The reasons for this decline are unclear. Information on how hunting and other factors influence the selection of vegetation types and sanctuaries would be beneficial to manage pintail populations in Suisun Marsh. During 1991-1993, we radio-marked and relocated female pintails (individuals: N = 203, relocations: N = 7,688) within Suisun Marsh to investigate habitat selection during the non-breeding months (winter). We calculated selection ratios for different vegetation types and for sanctuaries, and examined differences in those ratios between hunting season (i.e. hunting and non-hunting), age (hatch-year and after-hatch-year), and time of day (daylight or night hours). We found that diel patterns in selection were influenced by hunting disturbance. For example, prior to the hunting season and during daylight hours, pintails selected areas dominated by brass buttons Cotula coronopifolia, a potentially important food source, usually outside of sanctuary boundaries. However, during the hunting season, pintails did not select brass buttons during daylight hours, but instead highly selected permanent pools, mostly within sanctuaries. Also, during the hunting season, pintails showed strong selection for brass buttons at night. Sanctuaries provided more area of permanent water pools than within hunting areas and appeared to function as important refugia during daylight hours of the hunting season. Wildlife managers should encourage large protected permanent pools adjacent to hunted wetlands to increase pintail numbers within wetland environments and responsibly benefit hunting opportunities while improving pintail conservation.
Northern pintail Anas acuta (hereafter pintail) populations have declined substantially throughout the western United States since the 1970s, largely as a result of converting wetlands to cropland. Managed wetlands have been developed throughout the San Francisco Bay estuaries to provide wildlife habitat, particularly for waterfowl. Many of these areas were historically tidal baylands, and plans are underway to remove dikes and restore tidal action. The relationship between tidal baylands and waterfowl populations is poorly understood. Our objective was to provide information on selection and avoidance of managed and tidal marshland by pintails. During 1991-1993 and 1998-2000, we radiomarked and relocated 330 female pintails (relocations, n = 11,574) at Suisun Marsh, California, the largest brackish water estuary within San Francisco Bay, to estimate resource selection functions during the nonbreeding months (winter). Using a distance-based modeling approach, we calculated selection functions for different ecological communities (e.g., tidal baylands) and investigated variation explained by time of day (day or night hours) to account for differences in pintail behavior (i. e., foraging vs. roosting). We found strong evidence for selection of managed wetlands. Pintails also avoided tidal marshes and bays and channels. We did not detect differences in selection function between day and night hours for managed wetlands, but the degree of avoidance of other habitats varied by time of day. We also found that areas subjected to tidal action did not influence the selection of immediately adjacent managed wetlands. In areas where tidal marsh is restored, improving habitat conditions in adjacent wetlands would likely increase local carrying capacities and offset the loss of wetland area.
The Arctic is entering a new ecological state, with alarming consequences for humanity. Animal-borne sensors offer a window into these changes. Although substantial animal tracking data from the Arctic and subarctic exist, most are difficult to discover and access. Here, we present the new Arctic Animal Movement Archive (AAMA), a growing collection of more than 200 standardized terrestrial and marine animal tracking studies from 1991 to the present. The AAMA supports public data discovery, preserves fundamental baseline data for the future, and facilitates efficient, collaborative data analysis. With AAMA-based case studies, we document climatic influences on the migration phenology of eagles, geographic differences in the adaptive response of caribou reproductive phenology to climate change, and species-specific changes in terrestrial mammal movement rates in response to increasing temperature.
Austen A Lorenz
added a research item
Extensive global estuarine wetland losses have prompted intensive focus on restoration of these habitats. In California, substantial tracts of freshwater, brackish and tidal wetlands have been lost. Given the anthropogenic footprint of development and urbanization in this region, wetland restoration must rely on conversion of existing habitat types rather than adding new wetlands. These restorations can cause conflicts among stakeholders and species that win or lose depending on identified restoration priorities. Suisun Marsh on the San Francisco Bay Estuary is the largest brackish marsh on the U.S. Pacific coast. To understand how conversion of brackish managed wetlands to tidal marsh would impact waterfowl populations and whether future tidal marsh restorations could provide suitable habitat for dabbling ducks, we examined waterfowl wetland use with a robust GPS‐GSM tracking dataset (442,017 locations) from six dabbling duck species (N=315). Managed wetlands, which comprise 47% of Suisun Marsh, were consistently and strongly selected by waterfowl over tidal marshes, with use ~98% across seasons and species. However, while use of tidal marsh (only 14% of Suisun Marsh) was generally <2%, almost half our ducks (~44%) spent some time in this habitat and exhibited strong utilization of pond‐like features. Ponds only comprise ~10% of this habitat but attracted 44% use (~4.5 times greater than availability). Synthesis and applications: Managed wetlands were vital to dabbling ducks, but losses from conversion of these habitats may be partially mitigated by incorporating pond features that are more attractive to waterfowl, and likely to offer multi‐species benefits, into tidal marsh restoration designs. While waterfowl are presently a common taxon, previously seen calamitous population declines can be avoided through informed ecosystem‐based management that promotes species richness, biodiversity and helps “keep common species common”.
Fiona McDuie
added 3 research items
Breeding success should increase with prior knowledge of the surrounding environment, which is dependent upon an animal's ability to evaluate habitat. Prospecting for nesting locations and migratory stopover sites are well-established behaviours among bird species. We assessed whether three species of California dabbling ducks – mallards, Anas platyrhynchos, gadwall, Mareca strepera, and cinnamon teal, Spatula cyanoptera – in Suisun Marsh, California, U.S.A., a brackish marsh, prospect for suitable wetlands in the week prior to brooding. K-means cluster analyses grouped 29 mallard and gadwall hens into three groups. One group (N = 13) demonstrated evidence of brood site prospecting, with the fewest and latest prebrooding wetland visits. Of these hens, seven visited their future brood pond an average of 1.14 times and only shortly before brooding (1.29 days), obtaining current information on habitat suitability. For the remaining six hens, we did not detect a brooding wetland visit, possibly due to data limitations or because these hens acquired sufficient familiarity with the wetland habitat during nest breaks in adjacent wetlands, obviating the need to prospect the specific brood pond. The second identified group of hens (N = 11) visited the brooding wetland most frequently (on 4.55 days), further in advance (5.27 days), with the fewest unique wetland visits and the earliest brooding date (26 May). The final group of hens (N = 5) were the latest to brood (21 June) and visited the most wetlands, possibly due to less water or more broods present across the landscape. Brood ponds were always farther from the nest than the nearest ponds, indicating that habitat suitability or presence of conspecifics is more important to brood site selection. Prospecting provides hens with knowledge about current habitat conditions and allows them to ‘crowdsource’ public information regarding use of that habitat by other brooding hens. Prospecting may, therefore, benefit ducks inhabiting ephemeral habitats like those within Suisun Marsh, where brood habitat is limited and water cover changes rapidly during the breeding season.
Background: Spatio-temporal patterns of movement can characterize relationships between organisms and their surroundings, and address gaps in our understanding of species ecology, activity budgets, bioenergetics, and habitat resource management. Highly mobile waterfowl, which can exploit resources over large spatial extents, are excellent models to understand relationships between movements and resource usage, landscape interactions and specific habitat needs. Methods: We tracked 3 species of dabbling ducks with GSM-GPS transmitters in 2015-17 to examine fine-scale movement patterns over 24 hour periods (30min interval), dividing movement pathways into temporally continuous segments and spatially contiguous patches. We quantified distances moved, area used and time allocated across the day, using linear and generalized linear mixed models. We investigated behavior through relationships between these variables. Results: Movements and space-use were small, and varied by species, sex and season. Gadwall (Mareca strepera) generally moved least (FFDs: 0.5 – 0.7 km), but their larger foraging patches resulted from longer within-area movements. Pintails (Anas acuta) moved most, were more likely to conduct flights >300m, had FFDs of 0.8 – 1.1 km, used more segments and patches per day that they revisited more frequently, resulting in the longest daily total movements. Females and males differed only during the post-hunt season when females moved more. 23.6% of track segments were short duration (1-2 locations), approximately 1/3 more than would be expected if they occurred randomly, and were more dispersed in the landscape than longer segments. Distance moved in 30 minutes shortened as segment duration increased, likely reflecting phases of non-movement captured within segments. Conclusions: Pacific Flyway ducks spend the majority of time using smaller foraging and resting areas than expected or previously reported, implying that foraging areas may be highly localized, and nutrients obtainable from smaller areas. Additionally, movement reductions over time demonstrates behavioral adjustments that represent divergent energetic demands, the detection of which is a key advantage of higher frequency data. Ducks likely use less energy for movement than currently predicted and management, including distribution and configuration of essential habitat, may require reconsideration. Our study illustrates how fine-scale movement data from tracking help understand and inform various other fields of research.
Context Effective wildlife management requires information on habitat and resource needs, which can be estimated with movement information and modelling energetics. One necessary component of avian models is flight speeds at multiple temporal scales. Technology has limited the ability to accurately assess flight speeds, leading to estimates of questionable accuracy, many of which have not been updated in almost a century. Aims We aimed to update flight speeds of ducks, and differentiate between migratory and non-migratory flight speeds, a detail that was unclear in previous estimates. We also analysed the difference in speeds of migratory and non-migratory flights, and quantified how data collected at different temporal intervals affected estimates of flight speed. Methods We tracked six California dabbling duck species with high spatio-temporal resolution GPS–GSM transmitters, calculated speeds of different flight types, and modelled how estimates varied by flight and data interval (30min to 6h). Key results Median migratory speeds were faster (but non-significant) for the larger mallard (Anas platyrhynchos; 82.5kmh–1), northern pintail (Anas acuta; 79.0kmh–1) and gadwall (Mareca strepera; 70.6kmh–1), than the smaller-bodied northern shoveler (Spatula clypeata; 65.7kmh–1), cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanoptera; 63.5kmh–1) and American wigeon (Mareca Americana; 52kmh–1). Migratory flights were faster than non-migratory flights for all species and speeds were consistently slower with an increasing data interval. Implications The need to balance time and energy requirements may drive different speeds for migratory and non-migratory flights. Lower speeds at longer intervals are likely to be due to a greater proportion of ‘loafing’ time included in flighted segments, demonstrating that data acquired at different intervals provide a means to evaluate and estimate behaviours that influence speed estimation. Shorter-interval data should be the most accurate, but longer-interval data may be easier to collect over lengthier timeframes, so it may be expedient to trade-off a degree of accuracy in broad-scale studies for the larger dataset. Our updated flight speeds for dabbling duck species can be used to parameterise and validate energetics models, guide management decisions regarding optimal habitat distribution, and, ultimately, improve conservation management of wetlands for waterfowl.
Fiona McDuie
added a project goal
At the USGS we work the California DWR to examine the trends in bird declines in Suisun Marsh, a critical habitat for wintering and breeding waterbirds in California. Our aim is to assess the habitat factors driving long-term survival of waterfowl, rails, and other birds in this important area with my role being to analyze a wealth of tracking data to develop an in-depth understanding of waterfowl movement.