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Avian Community Responses to Management of Vegetation and Water Levels in Restored Wetlands at the Humacao Nature Reserve, Puerto Rico

Francisco J. Vilella1,*, José A. Cruz-Burgos2, Richard M. Kaminski3, Henry R. Murkin4, J. Brian Davis5, Spencer L. Weitzel5, and Fernando Vizcarra5

1US Geological Survey, Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, Box 9691, Mississippi State, Mississippi, MS 39762, USA. 2US Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office, PO Box 491, Boquerón, PR 00622, USA. 3James C. Kennedy Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation Center, Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, Box 596, Georgetown, SC 29442, USA. 4Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, Ducks Unlimited Canada, Stonewall, MB R0Z 2Z0, Canada. 5Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Box 9690, Mississippi State, Mississippi, MS 39762, USA. *Corresponding author.

Caribbean Naturalist, No. 72 (2020)

Coastal wetlands of the Caribbean have been greatly reduced in area and quality, and information on wildlife responses to management is lacking. We applied wetland management practices (disking, control of water levels) in a site historically disturbed by Saccharum spp. (sugarcane) cultivation at the Humacao Nature Reserve, southeastern Puerto Rico, and evaluated avian community response. We conducted weekly bird surveys and nest searches on disked and non-disked plots within recently constructed impoundments. The avian community shifted from 16 upland dominated species pre-restoration, to 67 wetland-dependent species at the end of our study (2001–2002). Ordination analysis indicated avian guild use of plots varied with environmental variables. Bird species diversity was not influenced by treatment, month, or salinity levels but was influenced by water depth and vegetation cover. Bird abundance was influenced by water depth, but not by treatment, month, salinity or vegetation cover. Furthermore, water depths of 0.10–0.20 m and salinity of ≤15 ppt promoted habitat conditions suitable for a diverse wetland avian community. We located 268 nests of 8 wetland bird species and observed adults with young of various other waterbirds, including species of conservation concern such as Dendrocygna arborea (West Indian Whistling Duck) and Porzana flaviventer (Yellow-breasted Crake). Bird community responses suggest that management practices (i.e., soil disturbance and control of water levels) can improve wetland biodiversity in abandoned sugarcane fields of Puerto Rico. Moreover, these practices may benefit wetland biodiversity in other Caribbean islands with a similar history of land use and habitat degradation.

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