Detection probabilities of bird carcasses along sandy beaches and marsh edges in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
By: , and 



We estimated detection probabilities of bird carcasses along sandy beaches and in marsh edge habitats in the northern Gulf of Mexico to help inform models of bird mortality associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We also explored factors that may influence detection probability, such as carcass size, amount of scavenging, location on the beach, habitat type, and distance into the marsh. Detection probability for medium-sized carcasses (200–500 g) ranged from 0.82 (SE = 0.09) to 0.93 (SE = 0.04) along sandy beaches. Within sandy beaches, we found that intact/slightly scavenged carcasses were easier to detect than heavily scavenged ones and did not find strong effects of location on the beach on detection probability. We estimated detection rate for each combination of scavenging state, carcass size, and position along sandy beaches. In marsh edge habitats, detection ranged from 0.04 (SE = 0.04) to 0.86 (SE = 0.10), with detection rates rapidly increasing from small (< 200 g) to medium carcass sizes and leveling off between medium and extra-large (> 1000 g) carcasses regardless of vegetation type (Spartina or Phragmites). Carcasses of all sizes were generally harder to locate in Spartina-dominated marshes than in Phragmites-dominated ones. A subset of the data for which we could adequately assess the effect of distance into the marsh indicated that detection rates generally declined the farther a carcass was into marsh vegetation. Based on power analyses, our ability to identify predictors that influence detection rates would be higher with larger numbers of carcasses, greater numbers of search trials per carcass, or more balanced sampling distributions across predictor values.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Detection probabilities of bird carcasses along sandy beaches and marsh edges in the northern Gulf of Mexico
Series title Environmental Monitoring and Assessment
DOI 10.1007/s10661-019-7924-z
Volume 191
Issue suppl 4
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Springer Nature
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 816, 15 p.
Country United States
State Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas
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