Identifying Optimal Foraging Characteristics to Inform Piping Plover and Red Knot Habitat Management

  • SCDNR Biologist Sharleen Johnson using a RTK GPS to measure elevation of piping plover habitat on Hilton Head Island

    SCDNR Biologist Sharleen Johnson using a RTK GPS to measure elevation of piping plover habitat on Hilton Head Island

  • Melissa Chaplin, USFWS biologist, conducting a piping plover survey along Harbor Island South Carolina

    Melissa Chaplin, USFWS biologist, conducting a piping plover survey along Harbor Island South Carolina

  • Piping plovers foraging on Harbor Island South Carolina. Photo by Melissa Chaplin, USFWS.

    Piping plovers foraging on Harbor Island South Carolina. Photo by Melissa Chaplin, USFWS.

The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a federally listed shorebird species that spends most of the year in its wintering range, which includes intertidal habitats in South Carolina (SC). The red knot (Calidris canutus) was recently listed and utilizes SC intertidal habitats during its annual migrations. Both shorebird species have exhibited population declines in recent years, and this is believed to result from impacts to migratory and overwintering habitats, rather than breeding grounds. Recent research has established linkages between benthic prey abundance and foraging activity along SC beaches. However, most of these projects focused on determining impacts from shoreline modification, rather than quantifying habitat characteristics. This project will apply new genetic tools and reanalyze these datasets to identify a suite of optimal foraging habitat characteristics to inform state and federal permitting and habitat management activities, as well as local beachfront management plans. 

The project team will work with the SC Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a habitat assessment tool for the piping plover and red knot. The team will also develop a refined list of preferred prey species for piping plovers and a preliminary list for red knots, outline management options for plover habitat protection and enhancement, and identify remaining information needs related to shorebird management in SC. These efforts will be invaluable to those tasked with protecting endangered species and permitting coastal impacts as well as resource managers faced with managing beaches and intertidal habitats in the face of sea level rise, increasing coastal development and shoreline modifications, and declining shorebird populations.