In the past 60 years, reservoirs have reshaped riverine ecosystems and transformed breeding habitats used by the threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus; hereafter plover). Currently, 29 % of the Northern Great Plains plover population nests at reservoirs that might function as ecological traps because reservoirs have more diverse habitat features and greater dynamics in water levels than habitats historically used by breeding plovers. We examined factors influencing daily survival rates (DSR) of 346 plover nests at Lake Sakakawea (SAK; reservoir) during 2006–2009 by evaluating multiple a priori models, and we used our best model to hindcast nest success of plovers during 1985–2009. Our observed and hindcast estimates of nest success were low compared to published estimates. Previous findings indicate that plovers prefer nest sites that are low relative to water level. We found that elevation of nests above the water level had a strong positive correlation with DSR because water levels of SAK typically increased throughout the nesting period. Habitat characteristics on the reservoir differ from those that shaped nest-site selection for plovers. Accordingly, extraordinary nest loss occurs there in many years, largely due to inundation of nests, and based on low fledging rates those losses were not compensated by potential changes in chick survival. Therefore, our example supports the concept of ecological traps in birds because it addresses quantitative assessments of habitat preference and productivity over 25 years (since species listing) and affects a large portion of the population.
Additional publication details
Nest survival of piping plovers at a dynamic reservoir indicates an ecological trap for a threatened population