Date of this Version
Environmental Management (2013) 52:417–426
Populations of many shorebird species are declining; habitat loss and degradation are among the leading causes for these declines. Shorebirds use a variety of habitats along interior migratory routes including managed moist soil units, natural wetlands, sandbars, and agricultural lands such as harvested rice fields. Less well known is shorebird use of freshwater aquaculture facilities, such as commercial cat- and crayfish ponds. We compared shorebird habitat use at drained aquaculture ponds, moist soil units, agricultural areas, sandbars and other natural habitat, and a sewage treatment facility in the in the lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley (LMAV) during autumn 2009. Six species: Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous), Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla), Pectoral Sandpiper (C. melanotos), Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), accounted for 92 % of the 31,165 individuals observed. Sewage settling lagoons (83.4, 95 % confidence interval [CI] 25.3–141.5 birds/ha), drained aquaculture ponds (33.5, 95 % CI 22.4–44.6 birds/ ha), and managed moist soil units on public lands (15.7, CI 11.2–20.3 birds/ha) had the highest estimated densities of shorebirds. The estimated 1,100 ha of drained aquaculture
ponds available during autumn 2009 provided over half of the estimated requirement of 2,000 ha by the LMAV Joint Venture working group. However, because of the decline in the aquaculture industry, autumn shorebird habitats in the LMAV may be limited in the near future. Recognition of the current aquaculture habitat trends will be important to the future management activities of federal and state agencies. Should these aquaculture habitat trends continue, there may be a need for wildlife biologists to investigate other habitats that can be managed to offset the current and expected loss of aquaculture acreages. This study illustrates the potential for freshwater aquaculture to provide habitat for a taxa at risk. With the rapid growth of aquaculture worldwide, the practices of this industry deserve attention to identify benefits as well as risks to wildlife.