Term of Award

Fall 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

Stephen P. Vives

Committee Member 2

Lorne M. Wolfe

Abstract

The southeastern United States has approximately 13.2 million hectares of wetland habitat, but these sensitive areas are subject to loss and degradation from draining and development. The effects, both positive and negative, that manipulation of these wetlands have on wildlife is still under study. In particular, there is a need to know whether artificial (mitigated) wetlands can serve as an appropriate substitute for the loss of natural wetlands. Therefore, I quantified the foraging behavior of herons and egrets (species that are dependent on wetlands for food) in natural and artificial wetlands in southeastern coastal Georgia and southern coastal South Carolina. I tested the hypothesis that wading birds would show similar foraging behavior and success in artificial (ponds and impoundments) and natural (rivers and estuaries) wetlands. I found that these birds use artificial wetlands without a shift in behavior and with similar success (captures/strike) in comparison to natural habitats. All species exhibited about a 70% strike success over all habitats. The only exception was the Great Egret, which foraged with lower success but captured larger prey in artificial wetlands. My results show that artificial wetlands are viable foraging habitats for herons and egrets.

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