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Title: Modeling the effects of river flow on population dynamics of piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) and least terns (Sternula antillarum) nesting on the Missouri River

Humans make extensive use of rivers and floodplains for economic benefits including agriculture, hydropower, commerce and recreation. Economic development of floodplains subsequently requires control of river levels to avoid flood damage. This process began in the Missouri River basin in the 1890s with the construction of a series of hydropower dams in Montana and escalated to new levels with the approval of the Pick-Sloan plan in the 1944 Flood Control Act. Maximizing these human uses of the river led to changes in and losses of hydrological and ecological processes, ultimately resulting in the federal listing of three fish and wildlife species under the Endangered Species Act: the pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhyncus albus; 1983), the piping plover (Charadrius melodus; 1984), and the interior population of least tern (Sternula antillarum; 1985). The listing of terns and plovers did not affect river management until the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposed to modify the governing document of the Missouri River Mainstem System, the Master Manual, a process which was completed in 2003. Although there was little disagreement over the habitat conditions that terns and plovers used for nesting, there was substantial disagreement over the amount of habitat necessary for terns and ploversmore » to meet population recovery goals. Answering this question requires forecasting species-specific population responses to dynamic habitat affected by both human actions (reservoir management and habitat restoration) and natural variability in precipitation. Piping plovers and least terns nest along the Missouri River from Fort Peck, Montana to just north of Sioux City, Iowa (Figure 1). Both species prefer to nest on sand and fine gravel substrates with no or sparse vegetation cover (Prindiville Gaines and Ryan, 1988; Sherfy et al., 2012), such as riverine sandbars (emergent sandbar habitat; ESH). Piping plovers also nest on reservoir shorelines that lack vegetation cover (Anteau et al., 2012). The amount of ESH available for nesting in a given year is strongly affected by the amount of water entering the Missouri River system through precipitation and the management of water flow from six reservoirs operated by the USACE on the mainstem Missouri River. Prior to the construction of dams, the Missouri River experienced bimodal peak flows in spring and early summer in concordance with the melting of plains and mountain snowpack (Galat and Lipkin, 2000). Flows decreased during summer months, with river stage then dependent upon rainfall. The combination of consistent high flows and occasional extreme high flows, together with the meandering characteristic of the river, regularly reshaped and scoured vegetation from ESH.« less
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Journal Article
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Journal Name: River Research and Applications, 30(8):964-975
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (US)
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Country of Publication:
United States
piping plover; least tern; flow; population model; habitat restoration; emergent sandbar; adaptive management