How breeding birds distribute in relation to landscape-scale habitat features has important implications for conservation because those features may constrain habitat suitability. Furthermore, knowledge of these associations can help build models to improve area-wide demographic estimates or to develop a sampling stratification for research and monitoring. This is particularly important for rare species that have uneven distributions across vast areas, such as the federally listed piping plover (Charadrius melodus; hereafter plover). We examined how remotely-sensed landscape features influenced the distribution of breeding plover pairs among 2-km shoreline segments during 2006–2009 at Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota, USA. We found strong associations between remotely-sensed landscape features and plover abundance and distribution (R2 = 0.65). Plovers were nearly absent from segments with bluffs (>25 m elevation increase within 250 m of shoreline). Relative plover density (pairs/ha) was markedly greater on islands (4.84 ± 1.22 SE) than on mainlands (0.85 ± 0.17 SE). Pair numbers increased with abundance of nesting habitat (unvegetated-flat areas β^=0.28±0.08SE ). On islands, pair numbers also increased with the relative proportion of the total area that was habitat ( β^=3.27±0.46SE ). Our model could be adapted to estimate the breeding population of plovers or to make predictions that provide a basis for stratification and design of future surveys. Knowledge of landscape features, such as bluffs, that exclude use by birds refines habitat suitability and facilitates more accurate estimates of habitat and population abundance, by decreasing the size of the sampling universe. Furthermore, techniques demonstrated here are applicable to other vast areas where birds breed in sparse or uneven densities.
Additional publication details
Landscape selection by piping plovers has implications for measuring habitat and population size