Vegetation characterization for the Lake Ontario stopover project

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Title: Vegetation characterization for the Lake Ontario stopover project
Author: Strobl, Erin E.
Abstract: Avian conservation is imperative because birds provide many beneficial ecosystem services. Bird mortality is highest during the migratory period due to habitat loss from anthropogenic land cover change. On the way to and from breeding grounds, migrants make many stopovers to refuel and rest for the next leg of their journey. The abundance, distribution, and quality of the stopover habitat are important for a successful migration. The southern shore of Lake Ontario in Western New York has received attention for conservation, because it provides critical stopover habitats for migrants. Performing vegetation and bird surveys, at specific stopover locations, provides useful information for finding correlations between bird abundance and richness with specific habitat characteristics and provides insight to the presence of invasive plant species in an area. The field data also help validate the accuracy of the 2001 National Land Cover Database (NLCD), which supplied land cover information for the geographic information system model used to initially locate the sampling sites. Sampling site locations were predicted by the model using distance from the shoreline of the lake and percent woody cover within 5 kilometers. The model accurately predicted the location of forested habitat with only minor discrepancies between specific forested land cover types when comparing to the actual land cover at the sampling plots. The field surveys suggested that birds prefer stopover habitats with a higher abundance of saplings and large shrubs. Birds were observed to be higher in abundance and richness in more isolated habitats with less than ten percent wooded cover in a 5 km radius around the patch. They also seemed to prefer habitat near the shore (0-2 kilometers) or further away from the shore (32-75 kilometers). The identified preferences that migrants have for specific stopover characteristics in this study can be incorporated in the conservation plans for quality stopover habitats in the Western New York region. The model can serve as a template for identifying more stopover habitats in the future.
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Date: 2010-03

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