Informing wetland management with waterfowl movement and sanctuary use responses to human-induced disturbance

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Long-term environmental management to prevent waterfowl population declines is informed by ecology, movement behavior and habitat use patterns. Extrinsic factors, such as human-induced disturbance, can cause behavioral changes which may influence movement and resource needs, driving variation that affects management efficacy. To better understand the relationship between human-based disturbance and animal movement and habitat use, and their potential effects on management, we GPS tracked 15 dabbling ducks in California over ~4-weeks before, during and after the start of a recreational hunting season in October/November 2018. We recorded locations at 2-min intervals across three separate 24-h tracking phases: Phase 1) two weeks before the start of the hunting season (control (undisturbed) movement); Phase 2) the hunting season opening weekend; and Phase 3) a hunting weekend two weeks after opening weekend. We used GLMM models to analyze variation in movement and habitat use under hunting pressure compared with ‘normal’ observed patterns prior to commencement of hunting. We also compared responses to differing levels of disturbance related to the time of day (high - shooting/~daytime); moderate - non-lethal (~crepuscular); and low - night). During opening weekend flight (% time and distance) more than doubled during moderate and low disturbance and increased by ~50% during high disturbance compared with the pre-season weekend. Sanctuary use tripled during moderate and low disturbance and increased ~50% during high disturbance. Two weeks later flight decreased in all disturbance levels but was only less than the pre-season levels during high disturbance. In contrast, sanctuary use only decreased at night, although not to pre-season levels, while daytime doubled from ~45% to >80%. Birds adjust rapidly to disturbance and our results have implications for energetics models that estimate population food requirements. Management would benefit from reassessing the juxtaposition of essential sanctuary and feeding habitats to optimize wetland management for waterfowl.




McDuie, F., Lorenz, A. A., Klinger, R. C., Overton, C. T., Feldheim, C. L., Ackerman, J. T., & Casazza, M. L. (2021). Informing wetland management with waterfowl movement and sanctuary use responses to human-induced disturbance. Journal of Environmental Management, 297.

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