Decision support tool: Mottled duck habitat management and conservation in the Western Gulf Coast.

Affiliation

Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Kingsville, TX, 78363, USA. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

The Western Gulf Coast provides important habitat for migratory and resident waterfowl. The mottled duck (Anas fulvigula) relies on this region for all of its life-cycle events. Its relatively small population, limited worldwide range, and generally declining population trajectory has earned it a "Red" status on the Audubon WatchList and is a species of concern among state and federal agencies. The Western Gulf Coast (WGC) mottled duck population decline is believed to be primarily caused by the historical conversion and degradation of coastal wetlands and native prairie, and recent declines in cultivated rice. There is general agreement among experts that negative impacts to nesting and brood-rearing habitat are the most important threats to the WGC mottled duck population and increasing recruitment is essential to the growth and sustainability of the population. Our goal was to use available knowledge of mottled duck nesting and brood-rearing requirements to develop a model to aid managers in targeting areas for conservation and management. We developed four spatially explicit models that: 1) identify and prioritize existing mottled duck nesting habitat for conservation (e.g., protection or maintenance); 2) identify and prioritize existing mottled duck brood-rearing habitat for conservation; 3) identify and prioritize areas for grassland establishment; and 4) identify and prioritize wetland basins for freshwater enhancement. Spatial models revealed that only 6 km2 and 9 km2 of nesting and brood-rearing habitat, respectively, were identified as highest priority (top 10%) for conservation in the WGC. Brood habitat was identified as potentially limiting recruitment in the Texas Mid Coast and the Laguna Madre subregions of our study area, whereas grassland habitat was potentially limiting recruitment in Chenier Plain and Mississippi River Coastal Wetlands subregions. Spatial models also revealed that there is a high density of areas of high priority for grassland establishment inland in Texas and Louisiana. Likewise, there is a high density of wetland basins of high priority for freshwater enhancement throughout coastal Louisiana and the upper Texas coast. We used two separate measures to assess the performance of our Mottled Duck Decision Support Tool (hereafter MODU-DST) and found that it adequately identified patch suitability, as defined by our model, with ≥79% accuracy. Using data from the Cooperative Breeding Mottled Duck Survey, we also found that breeding mottled ducks were using landscapes with optimal spatial arrangement of nesting and brood-rearing habitat, which is reflected by higher mean priority rankings of nesting and brood-rearing habitat in the landscape.

Keywords

Anas fulvigula,Brood-rearing habitat,Grassland establishment,Nesting habitat,Wetland enhancement,