Conservation of the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) in the Great Lakes region: a landscape-ecosystem approach

TitleConservation of the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) in the Great Lakes region: a landscape-ecosystem approach
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsWemmer LChristine
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages155 pp.
UniversityUniversity of Minnesota
CityMinneapolis, MN

In 1986, the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), a North American shorebird, was listed as endangered in the Great Lakes region under provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Despite its endangered status, the Great Lakes population remains extremely small and imperiled, and little was known about its ecology or habitat for more than a decade after its listing. The purpose of this research was to address a number of the deficiencies in scientific information about the Piping Plover in the Great Lakes region so that recovery planning could be improved. Specific objectives were to: (1) collect and summarize basic data on population trends and demography; (2) study patterns of habitat use at multiple spatial scales to identify coastal areas that represent breeding habitat essential to the survival of the Great Lakes plover population; (3) use spatially explicit models to determine effective recovery strategies; (4) assess the contribution of plover breeding sites to overall coastal biological diversity; (5) examine relationships among natural environmental disturbance, anthropogenic threats, and the occurrence of plovers and other rare organisms; and (6) provide spatial information at a landscape scale that will aid conservation efforts. This dissertation is divided into five chapters, plus an introductory and a summary chapter, describing results of research conducted on the Great Lakes population of Piping Plovers between 1994-1999. Summary and analysis of demographic parameters indicate that the largest current hurdle to population recovery is small population size. Piping Plovers breeding in the Great Lakes region exhibit fidelity to local breeding areas and individuals are dependent on an array of widely spaced breeding sites, the quality of which appears to be a function of physical habitat characteristics, predator populations, water level fluctuation, and local climate. A spatial model suggests that, when coupled, conserving a continuum of habitat over a wide geographic area and improving protection of breeding pairs may be effective strategies for achieving population recovery. Finally, protection of breeding habitat for the Piping Plover not only will promote recovery but may lead to preservation of a significant proportion of coastal biodiversity in the Great Lakes region.