Spatio-Temporal Mapping of Contemporary and Future State-listed Heron and Egret Foraging Habitat in Florida

Principal Investigator

Nineteen percent of Florida’s imperiled bird species inhabit shallow water areas along the coast.  These shallow areas consist of a mosaic of mangrove and salt marsh islands surrounded by, and interspersed with, vast mud, sand, and grass flats.  The islands serve as nesting colony sites for wading birds, whereas the flats provide feeding habitat.  This narrow band of habitat is under threat from changes to freshwater inflow, nutrient runoff, and rising sea levels.

Because wading birds are restricted to foraging in very shallow water and the availability of shallow water depends mostly on tidal fluctuations, the ability to map foraging habitat must take into account time and tides.  This project uses an existing model of tidal fluctuations to map available foraging habitat for four imperiled wading bird species (Reddish Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Roseate Spoonbill).  In addition, the habitat model will be used to compare changes in foraging habitat over time as a result of different scenarios of sea level rise.  Data from this study can be used to prioritize management of particular coastal areas and to identify areas where restoration of habitat will be most beneficial.