Hurricane and human-induced habitat changes on Fire Island and Westhampton Island, New York, and the effects on breeding piping plovers (Charadrius melodus)
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Barrier islands are dynamic environments facing increasing vulnerability to climate changes, sea level rises, and anthropogenic activities. Hurricane Sandy (October 2012) modified the Atlantic coast of the United States. On Fire Island and Westhampton Island, New York, multiple overwashes and three breaches occurred. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers filled two breaches, increased dune elevation and stabilized dunes by planting American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata). They built two restoration areas to mitigate the impact of an island stabilization project to federally listed breeding piping plovers (Charadrius melodus). The goal of this thesis was to quantify habitat changes after Hurricane Sandy, and assess habitat use of piping plovers specifically in human-created restoration areas. We created land cover maps using an object-based classification method (overall accuracy 85%), and field-collected data from four post-hurricane habitat types. Vegetation cover increased across all habitat types, especially in manipulated (30.1% increase) and natural overwashes (37.9% increase), while dry sand for nesting declined by 8%. Vegetation density indices were higher in natural overwashes than planted engineered dunes, likely a reflection of plant age and establishment. We monitored 83 nests (67 pairs) of piping plovers from 2015�"2017. Restoration areas were successful in attracting breeding piping plovers, although pair densities were lowest in this habitat in 2016, and in 2017 plovers selected against the restoration areas (�2 = 29.47, df = 3, p<0.0001). There was no effect of habitat type on reproductive parameters. We suggest vegetation removal may be necessary to maintain early successional habitats for piping plover management.
General Audience Abstract
Barrier islands are thin strips of land, which generally lie parallel to the mainland. They are dynamic environments subject to change from weather conditions and ocean currents. They are vulnerable to future climate changes, sea level rise, and increased human activity. Hurricane Sandy, October 2012, caused major landscape changes to the Atlantic coast. On two barrier islands, Fire Island and Westhampton Island, south of Long Island, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) further modified the post-hurricane habitats. They created two restoration sites designed to offset the impact of an island stabilization project to a federally protected breeding shorebird, the piping plover. Piping plovers nest on unvegetated or sparsely vegetated sand. We created land cover maps from aerial images and collected field data to describe habitat changes after Hurricane Sandy (2013, 2015–2017) in four habitat types creating during or after the hurricane. The vegetation cover and density increased across these four habitats, but especially in the manipulated overwashes and natural overwashes. This is likely due to the age of the plants in each habitat type. As vegetation grew back, areas of sand in each habitat type declined. Human-created restoration sites were used by plovers but in 2017 plovers used them less than expected. We monitored piping plover nests and chicks (April to August 2015–2017), and there were no differences in these measurements among habitat types. The findings from this thesis will assist in piping plover conservation on Fire Island and Westhampton Island.
- Masters Theses