Habitat suitability index (HSI) models were developed for the 2023 Coastal Master Plan to evaluate the potential effects of coastal restoration and protection projects on habitat for key coastal fish, shellfish, and wildlife species. These species included: eastern oyster, brown shrimp, white shrimp, blue crab, crayfish, gulf menhaden, spotted seatrout, largemouth bass, American alligator, gadwall, mottled duck, brown pelican, seaside sparrow, and bald eagle. Most of these species were included in the 2017 Coastal Master Plan analyses, and the HSI models from that effort were refined and improved following the recommendations described in the technical memorandum: 2023 Coastal Master Plan Habitat Suitability Index Model Improvement Recommendations (Sable et al., 2019). In addition to model improvements, HSI models were created for seaside sparrow and bald eagle, both of which are new species for the master plan analyses.
For the HSI models that are primarily literature-based, literature reviews were conducted for recent studies that could be used to improve the suitability index (SI) relationships that compose the models. As a result of this review, modifications were made to the salinity-related SIs of the oyster model including: expanding the time period used for salinity effects to spawning; adjusting the range of suitable annual average salinity to be more representative of Louisiana populations; and making oyster’s minimum salinity tolerance temperature dependent. In addition, a new SI was incorporated in the oyster HSI model that accounts for the effects of sediment deposition on oysters. The crayfish HSI model was improved by adjusting the time periods used for the SIs that describe the hydrology required for the crayfish life cycle, and the soil characteristics SI that was part of the 2017 crayfish model was removed because soil conditions do not appear to be limiting for crayfish burrow construction in coastal Louisiana. The other literature-based HSI models from the 2017 Coastal Master Plan, i.e., American alligator, gadwall, mottled duck, and brown pelican, were unchanged, with the exception of a small adjustment made to the suitability of forested wetlands for gadwall. Lastly, a literature-based HSI model was created for seaside sparrow that consists of SIs related to vegetated habitat type, marsh vegetation coverage, and marsh elevation.
Statistical-based HSI models were developed for brown shrimp (both small and large juvenile stages), white shrimp (small and large juvenile stages), blue crab (juvenile stage), gulf menhaden (juvenile and adult stages), spotted seatrout (juvenile and adult stages), largemouth bass, and bald eagle. The bald eagle HSI model was developed from a bald eagle nest probability of occurrence model that related nest occurrence from survey data with land cover type. The resulting model showed that combinations of forested wetlands, flotant marsh, and open water habitats were most suitable for nesting bald eagles. The 2023 fish, shrimp, and blue crab HSI models were developed using new approaches for the formulation of the water quality and structural habitat SIs that compose the models. For the 2017 models, the water quality SI was derived using only generalized linear mixed models (GLMMs) to estimate the relationship between salinity, water temperature, and species’ catch. For the 2023 models, however, multiple GLMMs and generalized additive models (GAMMs) were created for each species or life stage. These alternative models were compared and a single model that performed well statistically and was ecologically reasonable was selected for the species’ water quality SI. The structural habitat SI was developed using a meta-analysis of published literature to estimate the relative importance of various estuarine habitats to the fish and shellfish species. The results of this analysis were then used to modify the 2017 structural habitat SI relationship to account for the added habitat value of submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster reefs, which are also important habitats for juvenile fish and shellfish. Similar to the 2017 fish, shrimp, and blue crab models, the water quality and structural habitat SIs were then combined to create the 2023 HSI models.
The 2023 Coastal Master Plan HSI models were integrated with the Integrated Compartment Model (and are referred to as ICM-HSIs) and tested using environmental output from the 2017 Coastal Master Plan Future Without Action scenario. The tests showed that, in general, the models produced reasonable representations of species’ habitat distribution. Furthermore, the improvements made to the oyster, crayfish, fish, shrimp, and blue crab HSI models generally yielded more realistic results compared to the 2017 HSI models.