Waste rice seed is an important food for wintering waterfowl and current estimates of its availability are needed to determine the carrying capacity of rice fields and guide habitat conservation. We used a line-intercept method to estimate mass-density of rice seed remaining after harvest during 2010 in the Sacramento Valley (SACV) of California and compared results with estimates from previous studies in the SACV and Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV). Posterior mean (95% credible interval) estimates of total waste rice seed mass-density for the SACV in 2010 were 388 (336–449) kg/ha in conventionally harvested fields and 245 (198–307) kg/ha in stripper-head harvested fields; the 2010 mass-density is nearly identical to the mid-1980s estimate for conventionally harvested fields but 36% lower than the mid-1990s estimate for stripped fields. About 18% of SACV fields were stripper-head harvested in 2010 vs. 9–15% in the mid-1990s and 0% in the mid-1980s; but due to a 50% increase in planted rice area, total mass of waste rice seed in SACV remaining after harvest in 2010 was 43% greater than in the mid-1980s. However, total mass of seed-eating waterfowl also increased 82%, and the ratio of waste rice seed to seed-eating waterfowl mass was 21% smaller in 2010 than in the mid-1980s. Mass-densities of waste rice remaining after harvest in SACV fields are within the range reported for MAV fields. However, because there is a lag between harvest and waterfowl use in the MAV but not in the SACV, seed loss is greater in the MAV and estimated waste seed mass-density available to wintering waterfowl in SACV fields is about 5–30 times recent MAV estimates. Waste rice seed remains an abundant food source for waterfowl wintering in the SACV, but increased use of stripper-head harvesters would reduce this food. To provide accurate data on carrying capacities of rice fields necessary for conservation planning, trends in planted rice area, harvest method, and postharvest field treatment should be tracked and impacts of postharvest field treatment and other farming practices on waste rice seed availability should be investigated.
Additional publication details
Waste rice seed in conventional and stripper-head harvested fields in California: Implications for wintering waterfowl