Predicting wading bird and aquatic faunal responses to ecosystem restoration scenarios

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Abstract

In large-scale conservation decisions, scenario planning identifies key uncertainties of ecosystem function linked to ecological drivers affected by management, incorporates ecological feedbacks, and scales up to answer questions robust to alternative futures. Wetland restoration planning requires an understanding of how proposed changes in surface hydrology, water storage, and landscape connectivity affect aquatic animal composition, productivity, and food-web function. In the Florida Everglades, reintroduction of historical hydrologic patterns is expected to increase productivity of all trophic levels. Highly mobile indicator species such as wading birds integrate secondary productivity from aquatic prey (small fishes and crayfish) over the landscape. To evaluate how fish, crayfish, and wading birds may respond to alternative hydrologic restoration plans, we compared predicted small fish density, crayfish density and biomass, and wading bird occurrence for existing conditions to four restoration scenarios that varied water storage and removal of levees and canals (i.e. decompartmentalization). Densities of small fish and occurrence of wading birds are predicted to increase throughout most of the Everglades under all restoration options because of increased flows and connectivity. Full decompartmentalization goes furthest toward recreating hypothesized historical patterns of fish density by draining excess water ponded by levees and hydrating areas that are currently drier than in the past. In contrast, crayfish density declined and species composition shifted under all restoration options because of lengthened hydroperiods (i.e. time of inundation). Under full decompartmentalization, the distribution of increased prey available for wading birds shifted south, closer to historical locations of nesting activity in Everglades National Park.

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Beerens, J. M., Trexler, J. C., & Catano, C. P. (2017). Predicting wading bird and aquatic faunal responses to ecosystem restoration scenarios. Restoration Ecology, 25, S86–S98. https://doi.org/10.1111/rec.12518

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