The Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) of Alaska is an important region for millions of migrating and nesting shorebirds. However, this region is threatened by climate change and increased human development (e.g., oil and gas production) that have the potential to greatly impact shorebird populations and breeding habitat in the near future. Because historic data on shorebird distributions in the ACP are very coarse and incomplete, we sought to develop detailed, contemporary distribution maps so that the potential impacts of climate-mediated changes and development could be ascertained. To do this, we developed and mapped habitat suitability indices for eight species of shorebirds (Black-bellied Plover [Pluvialis squatarola], American Golden-Plover [Pluvialis dominica], Semipalmated Sandpiper [Calidris pusilla], Pectoral Sandpiper [Calidris melanotos], Dunlin [Calidris alpina], Long-billed Dowitcher [Limnodromus scolopaceus], Red-necked Phalarope [Phalaropus lobatus], and Red Phalarope [Phalaropus fulicarius]) that commonly breed within the ACP of Alaska. These habitat suitability models were based on 767 plots surveyed during nine years between 1998 and 2008 (surveys were not conducted in 2003 and 2005), using single-visit rapid area searches during territory establishment and incubation (8 June, 1 July). Species specific habitat suitability indices were developed and mapped using presence-only modeling techniques (partitioned Mahalanobis distance) and landscape environmental variables. For most species, habitat suitability was greater at lower elevations (i.e., near the coast and river deltas) and lower within upland habitats. Accuracy of models was high for all species, ranging from 65 -98%. Our models predicted that the largest fraction of suitable habitat for the majority of species occurred within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, with highly suitable habitat also occurring within coastal areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge west to Prudhoe Bay.
Additional publication details
Predicting breeding shorebird distributions on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska