Context Management of wintering waterfowl in North America requires adaptability because constant landscape and environmental change challenges existing management strategies regarding waterfowl habitat use at large spatial scales. Migratory waterfowl including mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) use the lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) for wintering habitat, making this an important area of emphasis for improving wetland conservation strategies, while enhancing the understanding of landscape-use patterns.
Objectives We used aerial survey data collected in the Arkansas portion of the MAV (ARMAV) to explain the abundance and distribution of mallards in relation to variable landscape conditions.
Methods We used two-stage, hierarchical spatio-temporal models with a random spatial effect to identify covariates related to changes in mallard abundance and distribution within and among years.
Results We found distinct spatio-temporal patterns existed for mallard distributions across the ARMAV and these distributions are dependent on the surrounding landscape structure and changing environmental conditions. Models performing best indicated seasonal surface water extent, rice field, wetland and fallow (uncultivated) field abundance positively influenced mallard distribution. Rice fields, surface water and weather were found to influence mallard abundance. Additionally, are results suggest weather and changing surface water affects mallard presence and abundance throughout the winter, because the probability of mallard presence and abundance changed from the northern ARMAV in November to the southern ARMAV in January.
Conclusions Using novel datasets to identify which environmental factors drive changes in regional wildlife distribution and abundance can improve management by providing managers additional information to manage land over landscapes spanning private and public lands. We suggest our analytical approach may be informative in other areas and for other wildlife species.