Long Point Waterfowl’s Lake St. Clair Initiative: Habitat Selection and Survival of American Black Ducks and Mallards during Autumn-Winter, 2014-15

Goals and Objectives

The coastal marshes of Lake St. Clair are critical habitat for millions of migratory waterfowl throughout spring and fall. Due to extensive wetland drainage and degradation, industrial and urban development and the impact of invasive species, the quantity and quality of habitat has declined dramatically for waterfowl such as Mallards and American Black Ducks. In order to assess habitat quality, conservation strategies often use models of energetic carrying capacity which are based on the amount of food energy available and total energy expenditure. These measures then provide an index to determine the amount of habitat required to sustain healthy populations during the non-breeding season. However, habitats as well as available food energy may become functionally unavailable due to disturbances or severe weather events. In order to assess the quality of available habitat, we are implementing a research project to test the current assumptions of conservation planners and investigate limiting factors between two species (American Black Ducks and Mallards) that have different continental population fluctuations but both use the Lake St. Clair region.

Our project will provide critical information to assess habitat use and energetic carrying capacity of American Black Ducks and Mallards during the non-breeding season. Additionally we will determine the movements, survival, and foraging ecology of migrating American Black Ducks and compare these metrics to those of Mallards on both publicly and privately owned wetland complexes. Our research will aid conservation planners by developing an understanding of how environmental covariates modify carrying capacity and survival of these species during the non-breeding seasons.

 

Research question(s)

 

  • What are the current extents of habitats available to migrating and wintering waterfowl in the Lake St. Clair region?
  • What are the differences in movements, survival, habitat use, and foraging ecology of American Black Ducks and Mallards?
  • What is the energetic carrying capacity of different habitats available to waterfowl throughout spring and fall?

 

Specific Habitat Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions

This project will indirectly influence how the 25,409 acres of wetland habitat in counties adjacent to Lake St. Clair (Lambton, Essex, Kent) are managed and thus we estimate our project will indirectly enhance 25,409 acres of wetland habitat in the region.

 

Benefits to Waterfowl, Wetland-Associated Species, and/or Other Wildlife

New technology for tracking species that migrate over large areas has been rapidly developing as transmitters have become smaller and lighter.  Currently, a new type of transmitter that uses Global Positioning through Satellites have shown great success in following waterfowl without the interfering with normal behavior. Using this technology, we will be able to remotely track birds while they are in the Lake St. Clair region and when they depart the study area. Using GPS satellite transmitters will allow for multiple accurate location estimates on each individual bird over several seasons.

 

Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management

The project will directly and indirectly influence wetland habitat conservation by identifying areas of greatest conservation need and detailing knowledge gaps that limit the ability of conservation organizations to develop science-based management directives.  Long Point Waterfowl intends to work with our conservation partners to reduce knowledge gaps through focused research so that wildlife benefits can be maximized on the limited acres of wetlands remaining in the Lake St. Clair region.  The research will influence wetland habitat conservation by identifying areas of greatest use as well as seasonal nutritional limitations, which will aid science-based management directives.

 

Project Location

Lake St. Clair is considered one of the most important areas for migratory waterfowl and other migratory waterbirds in North America.  Of the 12 million waterfowl that migrate through the Lower Great Lakes region each year, a substantial portion of those birds migrate through Lake St. Clair.  However, wetland loss tops 1 million acres in counties adjoining Lake St. Clair, making it a priority to identify key remaining habitats and determine how to maximize benefits for the diversity of migratory birds that depend on this ever shrinking resource.

Economic benefits of waterfowl hunting and outdoor recreation in the Lake St. Clair region are in the millions of dollars, and are important to the rural economy of the region. For these reasons, Lake St. Clair NWA is designated as a Ramsar wetland of international importance and the Lake St. Clair region is designated as an Important Bird Area. Recent and continued pressure on wetland habitats from agricultural and development interests, as well as decreases in wetland habitat quality from invasive species have continued to degrade these critical migratory habitats.

 

Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Scott Petrie, PhD, Executive Director, Long Point Waterfowl, Port Rowan, Ontario