Term of Award

Spring 2006

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Department

Department of Biology

Committee Chair

C. Ray Chandler

Committee Member 1

none

Committee Member 2

none

Abstract

Author's abstract: The Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) is a federally listed species with three distinct breeding populations, including Great Plains (threatened), Great Lakes (endangered), and Atlantic Coast (threatened), all of which winter along the Atlnatic and Gulf coasts of the United States. I studied the winter ecology of the Piping Plovers on Little St. Simons Island (LSSI), Georgia, from 2003-2006, with emphasis on the conservation significance of this site for the endangered Great Lakes population. During 2003-2004 and 2004-2005, LSSI supported up to 100 Piping Plovers during peak migration, and approximately 40 birds wintered at this site. All populations had similar patterns of arrival, departure, and winter residence times on the island. Of the color-banded plovers observed on LSSI during 2003-2004, 35% were observed the following year; 69% of plovers that wintered inn 2003-2004 returned to winter 2004-2005. Wintering plovers show high site fidelity to particular beaches on LSSI within years. Foraging success of Piping Plovers was highest (35.3% of foraging maneuvers) on beaches adjacent to the Altamaha River at the north end of the island. This area also had a different sediment composition (more coarse silt and very fine sand) and greater prey abundance (Nereis sp.) than other parts of the island. My results suggest that LSSI is one of the most important wintering sites on the Atlantic coast for the Piping Plover, especially the endangered Great Lakes population. All breeding populations of Piping Plovers have similar patterns of temporal occurence on LSSI, suggesting no need for population-specific management plans at this site. My data on site fidelity and foraging success suggest that relatively small areas on LSSI may be of disproportionate importance to wintering Piping Plovers. Critical habitat designations should take account of this winter-island variation.

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