Spatiotemporal Variation in Occupancy and Productivity of Grebes in Prairie Canada: Estimation and Conservation Applications
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Wetlands of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) provide important breeding habitat for greater than 30 species of waterbirds. Approximately 70% of PPR wetlands have been lost since European settlement and remaining wetlands are subjected to frequent degradation, primarily due to agricultural activities. Horned grebes (Podiceps auritus) are experiencing long-term population declines and are listed as a species of Special Concern in Canada. Because there is virtually no information on the status and trends of pied-billed grebes (Podilymbus podicep) this species is also of considerable conservation concern. Grebes are recorded on the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Surveys (WBPHS) conducted annually in May by the Canadian Wildlife Service; however, how accurately these counts reflect actual abundance has been unknown. Using a repeated counts method in 2010 and 2011, estimates of detection probabilities averaged 0.48 and 0.18 for horned and pied-billed grebes, respectively. These results suggest that WBPHS ground surveys may be used as an efficient and effective management tool for monitoring horned grebe abundances. However, low detection rates for pied-billed grebes lend little support for including the species in future monitoring efforts using the WBPHS. I recommend that the Canadian Wildlife Service consider implementing standardized ground survey methods to facilitate annual monitoring of horned grebe abundances. Marshbird research has focused primarily on breeding habitat use or selection but has seldom examined how productivity is related to wetland characteristics. Understanding processes that affect distribution patterns and productivity of grebes could provide insights into actions needed to achieve conservation goals. Therefore, occupancy of wetlands by breeding and brood-rearing horned and pied-billed grebes was evaluated on 6-7 study sites (5.8-11.6 km2) in south-central Saskatchewan, 2010 and 2011, and related to wetland and upland habitat features. Wetland occupancy by grebes was influenced by interspecific competition as well as local and landscape-level wetland features. Horned and pied-billed grebes rarely co-occurred on smaller (≤4 ha) semi-permanent and permanent wetlands. At the wetland level, horned grebe occupancy and productivity were highly correlated with the amount of emergent vegetation, whereas wetland area alone was a better predictor of adult pied-billed grebe occupancy and productivity. At a landscape level, the number of semi-permanent, permanent, and artificial wetlands on each study site was an important predictor of breeding and brood-rearing wetland occupancy probability for horned grebes in 2010 and for pied-billed grebes in both years. However, breeding horned grebe occupancy probability and productivity were higher in low wetland density landscapes in 2011. Horned grebes may be opportunistic, exploiting more of the available wetland habitats in low wetland density landscapes during years of above-average water conditions. Conservation initiatives for grebes should consider the roles of wetland-specific and landscape-level features while protecting semi-permanent and permanent wetlands in landscapes characterized by both high and low wetland densities.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
SupervisorClark, Robert G.
CommitteeDufour, Kevin W.; Alisauskas, Ray T.; Morrissey, Christy A.
Copyright DateSeptember 2012