Determinants of Wetland- Bird Community Composition in Agricultural Marshes of the Northern Prairie and Parkland Region

Abstract

Wetland losses in the Northern Prairie and Parkland Region are largely attributed to agriculture. Since land use is known to influence bird habitat selection, bird community composition is likely sensitive to the extent of neighboring agricultural activity. We determined local and landscape habitat variables predictive of wetland-dependent avian assemblage occurrence in southern Alberta. We: 1) identified distinct bird assemblages with a cluster analysis, 2) identified species indicative of these assemblages using an indicator species analysis, and 3) predicted bird assemblage occurrence in wetlands using a classification and regression tree. Wetland-dependent birds formed distinct avian assemblages that were primarily differentiated by region and local-level habitat characteristics like wetland size, depth, or vegetation cover. Generally, however, wetland-dependent bird assemblages were surprisingly insensitive to surrounding landscape composition. The extent of agricultural activity in the surrounding landscape was weakly predictive of avian assemblages in wetlands in the Grassland Natural Region, with edge-nesting birds being excluded from wetlands with >42% agricultural land cover in the surrounding landscape.

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Data Availability

Data is available in the following GitHub repository (link will be finalized on acceptance of article).

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this research was provided by Alberta Innovates grant #2094A. We are grateful to Dr. Derek Robinson who assisted with site selection and land cover analysis. We are also grateful to Drs. Stephen Murphy and Roland Hall who provided feedback on an early draft of this manuscript. We thank Daina Anderson, Brandon Baer, Matt Bolding, Graham Howell, Adam Kraft, Jennifer Gleason and Nicole Meyers for collecting the field data.

Funding

Funding for this research was provided by Alberta Innovates grant #2094A.

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RR conceptualized the study, provided resources, funding acquisition, supervision and project administration, contributed to investigation, methodology, and writing-review & editing. JD was responsible for formal analysis, data curation, software selection, visualization and co-writing the original draft. HP was responsible for investigation, co-developed methodology, participated in formal analysis, and co-wrote the original draft.

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Correspondence to Rebecca C. Rooney.

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All R code is shared in the following GitHub repository (https://github.com/jodyndaniel/pprbirds-agriculture)

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Daniel, J., Polan, H. & Rooney, R.C. Determinants of Wetland- Bird Community Composition in Agricultural Marshes of the Northern Prairie and Parkland Region. Wetlands 41, 14 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-021-01409-6

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Keywords

  • Marsh
  • Waterbirds
  • Land use
  • Cropland
  • Haying
  • Pastureland