Advisor

Davis, J. Brian

Committee Member

Brasher, Michael G.

Committee Member

Kaminski, Richard M.

Committee Member

Rush, Scott A.

Date of Degree

1-1-2017

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Abstract

Hundreds of wetland bird species use ricelands annually in the Gulf Coast Prairie region of Louisiana and Texas. Much of the original ecosystem was transformed for rice and other crops, cattle ranching, flood control, and other human uses. Flooded production and idled ricelands provide critical foraging habitat for breeding, migrating, and wintering wetland birds. Ricelands in coastal Louisiana and Texas provide approximately 42% of the estimated habitat carrying capacity for wintering waterfowl in this region. In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico prompted enactment of the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The MBHI provided avian habitat, including flooded ricelands, inland from oil impacted areas. My objectives were to: 1) estimate and model variation in biomass of waste rice and natural seeds as potential waterfowl forage in Gulf Coast Prairie ricelands, 2) estimate and model variation in wetland bird use of ricelands, and 3) conduct sensitivity analyses of bioenergetics models by varying foraging thresholds and true metabolizable energy (TME) values. A growing season of ~270 days allows Gulf Coast rice producers to grow two rice crops (i.e., the second termed ratoon). Waste rice was greatest in production fields with harvested and standing ratoon crops, and natural seed biomass was greatest in idled fields with standing vegetation. Wetland bird species richness and waterbird abundance were greatest in shallowly flooded (1–15 cm) ricelands with sparse vertical vegetation (1–20 cm), and duck abundance was greatest in shallow–intermediately (1–30 cm) flooded ricelands with short vegetation (1–15 cm). Shallowly flooded rice fields containing harvested or standing ratoon crops, and shallowly flooded idled fields with standing vegetation provided abundant potential foods for waterfowl and waterbirds. Bioenergetics models indicated that planners in the Gulf Coast Prairie region may be underestimating riceland habitat requirements for waterfowl by 10,000 ha. Models were most sensitive to changes in seed biomass estimates, and less sensitive to changes in foraging thresholds and TME values. Collectively, these results will facilitate conservation partners to refine models for conserving habitats for waterfowl and other waterbirds in the Gulf Coast Prairie.

URI

https://hdl.handle.net/11668/17623

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