Conservation of the Piping Plover in the Great Lakes Region: A Landscape-Ecosystem Approach

photo of a piping ploverAbstract

Wemmer, Lauren C. 2000. Conservation of the Piping Plover in the Great Lakes Region: A Landscape-Ecosystem Approach. Ph.D. Dissertation, Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Lauren’s dissertation addresses a number of important issues for the Great Lakes breeding population including population trends, movement patterns, dispersal, micro- and macro-habitat preferences, and the role of Piping Plovers as an "umbrella" species for other rare coastal species in the region. Her work provided the background for revision of the Great Lakes federal recovery plan and also designation of critical habitat. After completing her Ph.D., Lauren has continued plover work for USFWS. She is currently completing a revision of the Northern Great Plains Piping Plover population recovery plan.

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 can 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 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; 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. Additionally, protection of breeding habitat for the Piping Plover will promote recovery and may also lead to preservation of a significant proportion of coastal biodiversity in the Great Lakes region.