Schulz, J.L. and Leberg, P.L., 2019. Factors affecting prey availability and habitat use of nonbreeding piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) in coastal Louisiana. Journal of Coastal Research, 35(4), 861–871. Coconut Creek (Florida), ISSN 0749-0208.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to a large proportion of the wintering population of the threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus), but little is known about the bird's ecology in this region. In Louisiana, the majority of nonbreeding piping plovers are found on the state's rapidly eroding barrier islands. Between August 2013 and May 2014, surveys were conducted to assess the abundance and habitat use of piping plovers, as well as to characterize their invertebrate prey base, on Whiskey and Trinity islands. Seventy-eight percent of piping plovers observed were foraging, 18% roosting, and 4% engaged in other ambulatory activities. Intertidal habitat, such as foreshore beach and tidal flats, was used by 87% of foraging and 96% of roosting piping plovers. Though available, backshore beach, interior sand flats, and dunes were rarely used. The invertebrate community was dominated by haustoriid amphipods (87.5% of individuals collected), followed by bivalves (9.3%) and polychaetes (2.7%). Seasonal patterns and between-island differences were observed in all three invertebrate taxa, but these effects differed between beach habitat and the gulfside and bayside of prominent sand spits. Moisture had a positive effect on amphipod abundance and polychaete presence. There was no association between invertebrate and plover abundance, and prey abundance did not differ between sample sites where piping plovers were observed foraging and random sites. The low abundances of birds and prey, coupled with high variation among samples, are challenges for establishing baseline datasets to evaluate the consequences of coastal restoration activities.