Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Renewable Natural Resources
Wetland birds are likely to be influenced by habitat at multiple spatial scales, yet few studies have investigated bird responses at both broad and fine scales. Northern Gulf Coast marshes are dynamic ecosystems, and they provide an ideal place to examine habitat across spatial and temporal scales. My research focused on the secretive marsh bird guild (i.e. bitterns, rails, gallinules, grebes) with an emphasis on the king rail (Rallus elegans), a species of high conservation concern. My objectives were to investigate the wetland bird-environment relationship across scales, and to model annual changes in bird distribution. Study sites were in the fresh and intermediate (oligohaline) marshes of the Chenier Plain coastal region of southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas. I captured king rails for a two year radio telemetry study, and conducted point count surveys of marsh birds from March to mid-June of 2009-2011 using call-back methods to elicit responses. I visited each point six times per year, and >100 points were surveyed each year (n=304). Localized, field-based measures (e.g. water depth), management, and broad marsh types were related to bird abundance, and species distribution models were developed for four species based on Landsat satellite imagery. Home ranges of king rails varied from 0.8-32.8 ha (n=22), rails selected for open water, and smaller home ranges were associated with greater open water within the home range (20-30%). Point counts showed fine-scale habitat models, usually incorporating water depth, were improved with the addition of broad-scale marsh type and management, classified as permanently impounded, drawdown, or unmanaged. For 12 of 13 species, a multi-scale model was better than any single spatial scale. Species distribution models showed satellite-based measures of habitat corresponded well to marsh birds as they explained 37-79% of the variation in abundance. Temporary water was the most important variable, and species' models were distinct for fresh and intermediate marshes. The spatial distribution of birds varied greatly among years, especially with migratory birds in the highly variable fresh marsh. Overall, marsh birds responded to the environment at a variety of spatial scales, and satellite-based distribution models showed broad-scale patterns and dynamic distributions among years.
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Pickens, Bradley A., "Modeling the spatial and temporal dynamics of coastal marsh birds" (2012). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 1497.