Identifying habitat conservation priorities and gaps for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl in California

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Stralberg, Diana, Cameron, D. Richard, Reynolds, Mark D., Hickey, Catherine M., Klausmeyer, Kirk, Busby, Sylvia M., Stenzel, Lynne E., Shuford, W. David, and Page, Gary W.
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Conservation of migratory shorebirds and waterfowl presents unique challenges due to extensive historic loss of wetland habitats, and current reliance on managed landscapes for wintering and migratory passage. We developed a spatially-explicit approach to estimate potential shorebird and waterfowl densities in California by integrating mapped habitat layers and statewide bird survey data with expert-based habitat rankings. Using these density estimates as inputs, we used the Marxan site-selection program to identify priority shorebird and waterfowl areas at the ecoregional level. We identified 3.7 million ha of habitat for shorebirds and waterfowl, of which 1.4 million ha would be required to conserve 50% of wintering populations. To achieve a conservation goal of 75%, more than twice as much habitat (3.1 million ha) would be necessary. Agricultural habitats comprised a substantial portion of priority areas, especially at the 75% level, suggesting that under current management conditions, large areas of agricultural land, much of it formerly wetland, are needed to provide the habitat availability and landscape connectivity required by shorebird and waterfowl populations. These habitats were found to be largely lacking recognized conservation status in California (96% un-conserved), with only slightly higher levels of conservation for priority shorebird and waterfowl areas. Freshwater habitats, including wetlands and ponds, were also found to have low levels of conservation (67% un-conserved), although priority shorebird and waterfowl areas had somewhat higher levels of conservation than the state as a whole. Conserving migratory waterfowl and shorebirds will require a diversity of conservation strategies executed at a variety of scales. Our modeled results are complementary with other approaches and can help prioritize areas for protection, restoration and other actions. Traditional habitat protection strategies such as conservation easements and fee acquisitions may be of limited utility for protecting and managing significant areas of agricultural lands. Instead, conservation strategies focused on incentive-based programs to support wildlife friendly management practices in agricultural settings may have greater utility and conservation effectiveness.


Stralberg, D., D. R. Cameron, M. D. Reynolds, C. M. Hickey, K. Klausmeyer, S. M. Busby, L. E. Stenzel, W. D. Shuford, and G. W. Page. 2011. Identifying habitat conservation priorities and gaps for migratory shorebirds and waterfowl in California. Biodiversity and Conservation 20:19–40.