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Sea-Level Rise Impacts on Piping Plovers at Assateague Island, Virginia and Maryland

This collaborative project provided biologists and managers along the Atlantic coast with tools to predict effects of accelerating sea-level rise on the distribution of piping plover breeding habitat, test those predictions, and feed results back into the modeling framework to improve predictive capabilities. Immediate model results will be used to inform a coast-wide assessment of threats from sea-level rise and related habitat conservation recommendations that can be implemented by land managers and inform recommendations to regulators. Case studies incorporating resilience of piping plover habitat into management plans for specific locations demonstrate potential applications.

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Final Report: Assessing the Impacts of Sea-Level Rise on Piping Plovers at Assateague Island, Virginia and Maryland

Additional Resources

The geographic scope of this project has been extended as part of the North Atlantic LCC project 'Increasing Resiliency of Beach Habitats and Species in the Face of Storms and Sea Level Rise,' which is completing additional, related work funded through Hurricane Sandy mitigation grants.

Technical description

The piping plover’s coastal breeding, migration, and wintering habitats (barrier beaches) along the North Atlantic coast are dynamic systems. Under historical conditions, barrier beaches have been able to respond to fluctuations in sea level (and thereby provide protection to landward areas) but acceleration of sea-level rise poses risk of overwhelming natural response mechanisms. Some types of artificial coastal stabilization further undermine these natural response mechanisms by impeding barrier beach migration. 

This project consisted of two parallel tasks. The first task utilized the vast data sets documenting plover habitat preference for, and utilization of topographic, hydrodynamic, and vegetation regimes. This task developed a plover behavior model that is quantitatively tied to measurable physical variables including elevation, slope, frequency of inundation and overwash, and amount of vegetation.

The second task developed a habitat evolution model by relating the data sets documenting changes in the habitat to changes in sea level and storminess. The predictive habitat evolution model is coupled to the plover behavior model.

These two coupled models were evaluated against the historical data in order to determine hindcast skill. Future scenarios were modeled in order to analyze the efficacy of existing and alternate conservation strategies against plausible sea level and other future climate variables.

Project Contact(s):

Sarah Karpanty, Associate Professor, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

LCC Staff Contact(s):

Megan Tyrrell, Coastal Resiliency Coordinator

Sea-Level Rise Impacts on Piping Plovers at Assateague Island, Virginia and Maryland
Product Type(s):
Assessments and Research Results
Reports, Model-Based Assessments
Resource Type: Birds
Conservation Targets: Coastal and Marine
Conservation Framework: Assumption-based Research
Threats/Stressors: Sea-level rise and storm impacts
Conservation Action: Site/area management, Species management, Species recovery

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