Long Island Project

Habitat as a limiting factor.


The New York plover project began in 1992 and always has been focused on habitat as a factor influencing the distribution and abundance of breeding plovers. Our work with Atlantic Coast plovers over the last four decades has shown us that plover demography and growth is highly dependent on the types of habitat available to birds, the amount of human recreation in their breeding areas and is strongly influenced by storm disturbance.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the Atlantic Coast, affecting most of the United States coastline and quickly becoming one of the most costly hurricanes on record. Hurricane Sandy eroded dunes, overwashed and breached Fire Island in three places. Two breaches were subsequently filled by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and one remains open. In response to Hurricane Sandy, we began monitoring the piping plovers on Fire Island and the west end of Westhampton Island in 2013 to understand the population response to new habitat created by Hurricane Sandy. Following Hurricane Sandy, the island was also stabilized with artificial dunes, American beachgrass plantings and beach nourishment, which led to the creation of two restoration areas to mitigate for the potential loss of plover habitat to stabilization efforts. The temporal overlap and proximity of the hurricane- and human-manipulated habitat has led to an ideal semi-natural experiment for understanding the potential effects of many different habitat configurations to piping plovers on all of the constituent elements of population change, birth, death, immigration and emigration. 

Since the beginning of the project, we have been comparing plover demography, food availability, and habitat selection among all available habitat types to help plover managers understand what habitat types benefit plovers to inform future plover habitat creation and management. We are also broadly trying to understand how Fire Island fits in to the regional breeding population, looking at movement of individuals between islands, states, and recovery units. Further, we are investigating the post-fledging part of the life cycle to identify how and when young piping plovers are experiencing mortality and how this might influence recruitment and growth of the local population.