Demographic responses of interior least terns and piping plovers to the Missouri River flood of 2011: an ecological experiment


Federally listed least terns ( Sternula antillarum) and piping plovers ( Charadrius melodus) nest in spatially and temporally variable riverine, sandbar and shoreline habitats in the North American midcontinent. In a naturally functioning river system, sand is eroded, transported, and deposited by seasonally variable flows, creating and maintaining emergent sandbars. However, operation of dams on the Missouri River has attenuated peak spring flows, resulting in declines in abundance and quality of unvegetated sandbar habitats favored by nesting terns and plovers. The Missouri River Flood of 2011 was a historically and ecologically significant event in which summer flows exceeded all historical records for the post-dam era (i.e., since the late 1940s). Natural processes were mimicked during the flood in a way that is unexpected on a regulated river, and the resulting flow induced substantial habitat alteration and markedly increased sandbar habitat available for use by terns and plovers.

The Missouri River Flood of 2011 presented a historic opportunity to research responses of least terns and piping plovers to a major flood event. A multi-year field study was initiated in 2012, to address several key elements relating to abundance, survival, and productivity of least terns and piping plovers in flood-created Missouri River habitats. The primary goal of this task is to document demographic responses of terns and plovers to the habitat alterations induced by the 2011 Missouri River Flood by comparing vital rates measured in pre-flood and post-flood systems.

This is a new Technical Assistance task that is being developed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This information will be updated as the project proposal is developed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requires analyses of QuickBird satellite imagery to quantify abundance and distribution of habitats on the Missouri River. These analyses will be used to evaluate river recovery progress and assess abundance of nesting habitat for federally listed least terns and piping plovers. Northern Prairie has developed techniques for conducting these analyses under SubTask 7.3, and this task represents application of these techniques to future satellite imagery.

Principal Investigator(s):

Erin A Roche

Mark H Sherfy

Laurence L Strong

Project Status:

In Progress




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