Effects of Global Change on the Migration Ecology of Shorebirds on the Northern Gulf of Mexico

EPA Grant Number: FP917457
Title: Effects of Global Change on the Migration Ecology of Shorebirds on the Northern Gulf of Mexico
Investigators: Henkel, Jessica R
Institution: Tulane University of Louisiana
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 1, 2012 through July 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Ecology


This research will investigate the response of stopover refueling performance of migratory shorebirds to variation in habitat quality and evaluate variation in Northern Gulf of Mexico stopover habitat use between target species during spring migration. The potential changes to these stopover habitats due to projected sea-level rise then will be modeled to predict the potential consequences of these changes to the migration ecology of shorebirds.


For migrating shorebirds, one of the primary factors determining migration success is the efficiency of refueling rates at stopover sites. Therefore, fattening rates of birds on migration can be used as a proxy for habitat quality when comparing stopover sites. The study will investigate variation in stopover refueling performance across four habitat types in two declining species of shorebirds (Dunlin [Calidris alpina] and Semipalmated sandpipers [Calidris pusilla]) using plasma metabolites, which have been shown to be indicators of fattening rates in shorebirds. The study will then combine this information on the importance of Gulf coast habitats to shorebird migration with models of the impact of projected sea-level rise to these habitats using the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM6) to evaluate the potential for populationlevel consequences for migratory shorebirds.

Expected Results:

As shorebirds vary in their habitat use both between and within species, the importance of different northern Gulf stopover habitat types also will vary. Using the individual and environmental variables assessed in this study, the four coastal habitat types used by shorebirds on the northern Gulf of Mexico will be able to be characterized according to relative fueling rates in those habitats across species, within species and between species to rank their importance to shorebirds during migration. The result will be independent maps describing the comparative quality of each habitat type to shorebirds. The study will then link these quality characterizations to habitat descriptions used in the sea-level affecting marshes model, allowing for the projection of the change in the amount of high-quality habitat available for shorebirds under different sea-level rise scenarios. The results of this study will highlight the importance of the northern Gulf of Mexico for migrating shorebirds, provide baseline information for the conservation of threatened coastal habitats and bird species, and demonstrate the multiple ways in which global change can affect ecosystems and populations.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Shorebirds are found along the shores of every coastline in the United States. The health of shorebird populations, therefore, can serve as indicators of the overall ecosystem health of habitats on which human populations rely. In addition, the shorebird species targeted in this study represent species that incorporate most of the Western Hemisphere in their migratory flight paths. Although analyses of land changes and weather stations can provide us with information on the impacts of global change at relatively local scales, shorebirds reflect this information on a global scale, providing potentially insightful information on the largescale impacts of global change.

Supplemental Keywords:

global change, Gulf of Mexico, shorebirds

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final