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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 305:203-217 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps305203

Predicting site quality for shorebird communities:a case study on the Humber estuary, UK

Richard A. Stillman1,*, Andrew D. West1, John D. Goss-Custard1, Selwyn McGrorty1, Natalie J. Frost2, Donald J. Morrisey2,3, Andrew J. Kenny2,4, Allan L. Drewitt5

1Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Dorset, Winfrith Technology Centre, Winfrith Newburgh, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 8ZD, UK
2ABP Marine Environmental Research Ltd, Pathfinder House, Maritime Way, Southampton, Hampshire, SO14 3AE, UK
3National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd, PO Box 893, Nelson, New Zealand
4Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, Burnham Laboratory, Remembrance Avenue, Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex CM0 8HA, UK
5English Nature, Northminster House, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire PE1 1UA, UK

ABSTRACT: The conservation importance of estuaries is often measured by bird numbers, but monitoring numbers is not necessarily a reliable way of assessing changes in site quality. We used an individual-based model, comprised of fitness-maximising individuals, to assess the quality of the Humber estuary, UK, for 9 shorebirds; dunlin Calidris alpina, common ringed plover Charadrius hiaticula, red knot Calidris canutus, common redshank Tringa totanus, grey plover Pluvialis squatarola, black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa, bar-tailed godwit L. lapponica, Eurasian oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus and Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata. We measured site quality as predicted overwinter survival. The model accurately predicted the observed shorebird distribution (if non-starving birds were assumed to feed on any prey or patch on which intake rate equalled or exceeded their requirements), and the diets of most species. Predicted survival rates were highest in dunlin and common ringed plovers, the smallest species, and in Eurasian oystercatchers, which consumed larger prey than the other species. Shorebird survival was most strongly influenced by the biomass densities of annelid worms, and the bivalve molluscs Cerastoderma edule and Macoma balthica. A 2 to 8% reduction in intertidal area (the magnitude expected through sea level rise and industrial developments) decreased predicted survival rates of all species except the dunlin, common ringed plover, red knot and Eurasian oystercatcher. This paper shows how an individual-based model can assess present-day site quality and predict how site quality may change in the future. The model was developed using existing data from intertidal invertebrate and bird monitoring schemes plus new intertidal invertebrate data collected over 2 winters. We believe that individual-based models are useful tools for assessing estuarine site quality.

KEY WORDS: Climate change · Estuary management · Behaviour-based model · Site quality · Waders

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