Habitat conditions are one of the most important factors determining distribution and productivity of least terns (Sternula antillarum) and piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) in the upper Missouri River system (Ziewitz and others, 1992; Kruse and others, 2002). Habitat conditions are known to change within and among seasons in response to variation in river flows, weather conditions, and management actions targeted at providing for the needs of terns and plovers. Although these principles are generally agreed upon, there is little empirical information available on the quantity and quality of tern and plover habitats in this system, particularly with reference to the major life history events that must be supported (egg laying, incubation, and brood rearing). Habitat requirements for these events are composed of two major categories: nesting and foraging habitat. In the case of piping plovers, these two requirements must occur on the same area because plover chicks are constrained to foraging near nesting sites prior to fledging (Knetter and others, 2002; Haffner, 2005). In contrast, least terns chicks are fed by the adults, allowing food procurement for broods to occur outside the immediate nesting area; however, food resources must be close enough to nesting locations to minimize foraging time.
The complexity and dynamics of the upper Missouri River system introduce considerable uncertainty into how best to manage tern and plover habitats, and how best to evaluate the effectiveness of this management. An extensive program of habitat monitoring will be needed to address this complexity and support the management of least terns and piping plovers under the Missouri River Recovery Program. These needs are being addressed, in part, through a program of habitat creation and management targeted at improving quality and quantity of habitats for terns and plovers. Given the momentum of these projects and their associated costs, it is imperative that the capacity be available to quantify changes in managed habitats for least terns and piping plovers, so that management effectiveness can be evaluated.
Extremely high flows and flooding of the Missouri River in 1997 created and improved vast amounts of nesting habitat for least terns and piping plovers. Since 1998, there has been an apparent loss and/or degradation of habitat throughout the river system. However, during the same timeframe reservoir water levels have declined, exposing extensive piping plover breeding habitat. For example, 64 percent of adult piping plovers using the Missouri River in 2005 were observed on reservoir habitats, and 43 percent were observed on Lake Sakakawea (Threatened and Endangered Species Section, Omaha District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, unpub. data, 2006). Given the vast dynamics of this river and reservoir system, systemwide monitoring of habitat is clearly needed for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to employ adaptive management (with respect to river operations) to provide most optimal conditions for the maintenance of breeding habitat of least terns and piping plovers. As a result of this need, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, began work on a habitat monitoring plan in 2005 as a conceptual framework for adaptive management.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Missouri River Emergent Sandbar Habitat Monitoring Plan - A Conceptual Framework for Adaptive Management