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Habitat model to help protect piping plover


A piping plover on a beach Virginia Tech doctoral student Katherina Gieder created a model to help managers protect the piping plover, a tiny shorebird that has been on the federal threatened list since 1986.

Feb. 15, 2016 – The piping plover, which nests in open areas along Atlantic Coast beaches, has been on the federal threatened species list since 1986. Doctoral student Katherina Gieder has created a model combining sea-level rise, shoreline change, geomorphology features such as beach width, and piping plover nesting habitat suitability to help managers protect the birds against habitat damage and predation. Her research was published in Ecological Modelling.

Gieder’s research to meet her first goal — to develop and implement a tool to predict future change to piping plover habitat — was unique in that it incorporated relative sea-level rise and the dynamic response of specific variables to that rise. Using her model, she simulated two rates of sea-level rise between 2050 and 2100: 3 and 4.1 millimeters per year. Such modest sea-level rise rates could increase suitable piping plover habitat 40 to 80 percent.

Her second goal was to address gaps in the understanding of predator population ecology, in particular red foxes and piping plover breeding populations. For example, the study found that red fox occupancy increases sharply with increased eastern cottontail presence, but having more rabbits to eat didn’t always keep birds off the fox’s diet. “Red foxes are territorial, so if one red fox has territory with few rabbits or small mammals, then it might turn to shorebird chicks and eggs,” Gieder said. The U.S. Geological Survey is using an iPhone app built for the model that records data on nesting behavior.

Read the full press release.

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