Demographic response of Louisiana Waterthrush, a stream obligate songbird of conservation concern, to shale gas development

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Abstract

Shale gas development continues to outpace the implementation of best management practices for wildlife affected by development. We examined demographic responses of the Louisiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla) to shale gas development during 2009-2011 and 2013-2015 in a predominantly forested landscape in West Virginia, USA. Forest cover across the study area decreased from 95% in 2008 to 91% in 2015, while the area affected by shale gas development increased from 0.4% to 3.9%. We quantified nest survival and productivity, a source-sink threshold, riparian habitat quality, territory density, and territory length by monitoring 58.1 km of forested headwater streams (n = 14 streams). Across years, we saw annual variability in nest survival, with a general declining trend over time. Of 11 a priori models tested to explain nest survival (n = 280 nests), 4 models that included temporal, habitat, and shale gas covariates were supported, and 2 of these models accounted for most of the variation in daily nest survival rate. After accounting for temporal effects (rainfall, nest age, and time within season), shale gas development had negative effects on nest survival. Population-level nest productivity declined and individual productivity was lower in areas disturbed by shale gas development than in undisturbed areas, and a source-sink threshold suggested that disturbed areas were more at risk of being sink habitat. Riparian habitat quality scores, as measured by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency index and a waterthrush-specific habitat suitability index, differed by year and were negatively related to the amount of each territory disturbed by shale gas development. Territory density was not related to the amount of shale gas disturbance, but decreased over time as territory lengths increased. Overall, our results suggest a decline in waterthrush site quality as shale gas development increases, despite relatively small site-wide forest loss.

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Frantz, M. W., Wood, P. B., Sheehan, J., & George, G. (2018). Demographic response of Louisiana Waterthrush, a stream obligate songbird of conservation concern, to shale gas development. Condor, 120(2), 265–282. https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-17-130.1

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