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Abstract

Field ecologists in Everglades National Park know that the dynamics of water flow affect the breeding success of wading birds. A number of recent studies have suggested foraging success as the primary causal link. Data on the number and location of foraging birds are available from the Systematic Reconnaissance Flights, monthly aerial surveys of wading birds and surface water condition. A set of regression models were developed that predict the number of foraging birds observed in the Park at the beginning of May, a crucial period in the breeding season of almost all wading birds in this area. Predictor variables were obtained by converting the observations of surface water condition into three indexes that describe (1) the amount of surface water in the Park in January (near the beginning of the ‘dry’ season), (2) the rate at which it dries over the subsequent months, and (3) the amount of disruption to that drying process. An information-theoretic measure, ICOMP(IFIM), was used to choose on the basis of parsimony between the large set of possible models that incorporate these predictors. Most species were best predicted by the same few models, and the fitted model parameters were also similar, indicating that the same pattern of surface water dynamics was optimal for most species. The optimal pattern was: intermediate water levels at the beginning of the dry season, a rapid rate of drying, and no disruption in the drying process. A number of disruptions in drying since 1985 have been the result of releases of water from the flow-control structures at the northern boundary of Everglades National Park. Reducing or eliminating these unnatural hydrological events should help wading bird populations to increase.