Piping plover breeding biology, foraging ecology and behavior on Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
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We studied piping plovers (Charadrius melodus Ord) on Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland, during the 1988-1990 breeding seasons. The estimated breeding population declined from 25 pairs in 1988 to 14 pairs in 1990. Nest predation by red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) was high. Predator exclosures constructed arou nd individual nests did not increase nest survival. Chick survival was higher in bay beach and island interior brood-rearing habitats than on the ocean beach. Our evidence supports the hypothesis that the availability of adequate food is driving the differences in survival observed among brood-rearing habitats. Chicks raised on the bay beach or island interior weighed more, had higher foraging rates, and spent a greater proportion of their time foraging than chicks reared on the ocean beach. Indices of invertebrate prey abundance indicated that insects were more abundant on the bay beach and island interior than on the ocean beach. Disturbance did not differ among brood-rearing habitats. Human disturbance was higher in 1990 than in previous years. Overall productivity was 0.71 chicks fledged/breeding pair, well below our estimate of the productivity needed to deter a population decline. Management efforts should focus on reducing nest predation and maintaining overwash access paths to high quality brood-rearing habitat.
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