We examined wetland selection by the Black Tern (Chlidonias niger), a species that breeds primarily in the prairie pothole region, has experienced population declines, and is difficult to manage because of low site fidelity. To characterize its selection of wetlands in this region, we surveyed 589 wetlands throughout North and South Dakota. We documented breeding at 5% and foraging at 17% of wetlands. We created predictive habitat models with a machine-learning algorithm, Random Forests, to explore the relative role of local wetland characteristics and those of the surrounding landscape and to evaluate which characteristics were important to predicting breeding versus foraging. We also examined area-dependent wetland selection while addressing the passive sampling bias by replacing occurrence of terns in the models with an index of density. Local wetland variables were more important than landscape variables in predictions of occurrence of breeding and foraging. Wetland size was more important to prediction of foraging than of breeding locations, while floating matted vegetation was more important to prediction of breeding than of foraging locations. The amount of seasonal wetland in the landscape was the only landscape variable important to prediction of both foraging and breeding. Models based on a density index indicated that wetland selection by foraging terns may be more area dependent than that by breeding terns. Our study provides some of the first evidence for differential breeding and foraging wetland selection by Black Terns and for a more limited role of landscape effects and area sensitivity than has been previously shown.
Additional publication details
Wetland selection by breeding and foraging black terns in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States
University of California Press
Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit