Jennings, S.
D. Lumpkin
N. Warnock
T. E. Condeso
J. P. Kelly

Publication Date: 

Dec 2021

Type of Document: 

Journal Article

Movement by animals to obtain resources and avoid predation often depends on natural cycles, and human alteration of the landscape may disrupt or enhance the utility of different habitats or resources to animals through the phases of these cycles. We studied habitat selection by GPS/accelerometer-tagged great egrets (Ardea alba) foraging in areas with shellfish aquaculture infrastructure and adjacent natural wetlands, while accounting for tide-based changes in water depth. We used integrated step selection analysis to test the prediction that egrets would express stronger selection for natural wetlands (eelgrass, tidal marsh, and other tidal wetlands) than for shellfish aquaculture areas. We also evaluated differences in foraging behavior among shellfish aquaculture areas and natural wetlands by comparing speed travelled (estimated from distance between GPS locations) and energy expended (Overall Dynamic Body Acceleration) while foraging. We found evidence for stronger overall habitat selection for eelgrass than for shellfish aquaculture areas, with results conditional on water depth: egrets used shellfish aquaculture areas, but only within a much narrower range of water depths than they used eelgrass and other natural wetlands. We found only slight differences in our metrics of foraging behavior among shellfish aquaculture areas and natural wetlands. Our results suggest that although great egrets appear to perceive or experience shellfish aquaculture areas as suitable foraging habitat during some conditions, those areas provide less foraging opportunity throughout tidal cycles than natural wetlands. Thus, expanding the footprint of shellfish aquaculture into additional intertidal areas may reduce foraging opportunities for great egrets across the range of tidal cycles. Over longer time scales, the ways in which natural wetlands and shellfish aquaculture areas adapt to rising sea levels (either through passive processes or active management) may change the ratios of these wetland types and consequently change the overall value of Tomales Bay to foraging great egrets.

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Jennings S, Lumpkin D, Warnock N, Condeso TE, Kelly JP (2021) Great egret (Ardea alba) habitat selection and foraging behavior in a temperate estuary: Comparing natural wetlands to areas with shellfish aquaculture. PLoS ONE 16(12): e0261963.