Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Nebraska
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Nebraska Project

Habitat decisions in altered landscapes: Behavioral and physiological consequences for long-distance migrants

September 2012 - December 2015


Participating Agencies

  • USGS Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center
  • Rainwater Basin Joint Venture
  • Great Plains LCC

Increasing agricultural intensity is likely altering habitat characteristics that influence the condition and migratory success of long distance migrant such as shorebirds because agricultural landscapes can have reduced food availability. Although shorebirds demonstrate dietary flexibility during migration, overall depression in food resources and limited habitat availability may induce further competition. Still, previous research suggests that migratory shorebirds prefer agrarian habitats over native habitats, despite the relative dearth of resources— a preference which may suggest the presence of an ecological trap as these habitats still clearly display cues that indicate quality habitat. Closer examination indicates that shorebirds may compensate for limited food availability by foraging more actively; however, the degree to which behavioral flexibility buffers against the negative impacts of foraging in areas with fewer resources remains unclear. It is possible that altering the landscape has resulted in fitness consequences for migratory shorebirds by reducing the energetic benefits associated with preferred habitats. In general, differences in the availability of habitat across the landscape, as well as annual and regional variation in habitat predictability, makes this a unique system in which to test the consequences of habitat decisions for migratory shorebirds. In addition, the wide spectrum of natural variation and anthropogenic change across a relatively short distance presents a rare opportunity to understand the scale at which plasticity in habitat decisions is expressed during migration. The goals of this study are to examine patterns of stopover habitat use by migratory shorebirds, the habitat characteristics of stopover sites, and how habitat characteristics may influence condition and potentially fitness for shorebirds during spring migration.

Research Publications Publication Date
Gillespie, C.R. and J.J. Fontaine. 2017. Shorebird migratory stopover responses to local and regional change: habitat decisions in a vanishing landscape. J. Wildlife Management 81:1051-1062. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21271 October 2017
Theses and Dissertations Publication Date
Gillespie, C. 2015. Shorebird migratory stopover responses to local and regional change: Habitat decisions in a vanishing landscape. M.S. Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln May 2015