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Comprehensive Framework for Ecological Assessment of the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
J. Brian Davis, Elisabeth Webb, Richard M. Kaminski, Philip J. Barbour, and Francisco J. Vilella

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 13, Issue 4 (2014): G66–G81

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Southeastern Naturalist J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 G66 SOUTHEASTERN NATURALIST Gulf of Mexico Natural History and Oil Spill Impacts Special Series 2014 13(4):G66–G81 Comprehensive Framework for Ecological Assessment of the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill J. Brian Davis1,*, Elisabeth Webb2, Richard M. Kaminski1, Philip J. Barbour3, and Francisco J. Vilella4 Abstract - Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) established and funded the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), with the goal of improving and increasing wetland habitats on private lands to benefit wintering and migrating waterbirds displaced from oil-impacted coastal wetlands. The NRCS and conservation partners provided financial and technical assistance to landowners and managers of sites enrolled in various conservation easement programs, and incorporated approximately 190,000 ha of wetlands and agricultural lands in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) and Gulf Coast regions in the MBHI. In fall 2010, the NRCS worked with scientists and graduate students from three universities and various conservation agencies to design and implement landscape-scale evaluations of (1) the use of MBHI-managed wetlands and comparable non-MBHI wetlands by Charadriiformes (shorebirds), Anseriformes (waterfowl), and other waterbirds; and (2) the relative effectiveness of different MBHI practices for providing habitat and food resources for migrating, resident, and wintering waterbirds. In this paper, we describe the scientific framework designed to evaluate the MBHI in improving waterbird habitats on private lands in the MAV, the Gulf Coast Prairies in Louisiana and Texas, and Gulf coastal wetlands of Mississippi and Alabama. The results of our evaluation will enhance our understanding of the influence of MBHI, other Farm Bill Conservation Initiative managed lands (e.g., Wetland Reserve Program), and selected agricultural working lands (e.g., Oryza sativa L. [Rice] fields in southern Louisiana and Texas) on wintering and migrating waterbirds. A proactive approach that uses science to evaluate governmental conservation programs is relevant and can inform development of meaningful public policy that likely will be needed for effective delivery of future conservation programs and to justify financial incentives paid to landowners to apply best management practices. Introduction The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 was one of the greatest environmental disasters in American history (Mendelssohn et 1Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, Box 9690, Mississippi State, MS 39762. 2US Geological Survey, Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, 302 Anheuser-Busch Natural Resources Building, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211. 3USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Central National Technology Support Center, 501 West Felix Street, Building 23, Fort Worth, TX 76115. 4US Geological Survey, Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University, Box 9690, Mississippi State, MS 39762. *Corresponding author - brian.davis@msstate.edu. Manuscript Editor: Frank R. Moore Southeastern Naturalist G67 J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 al. 2012, Pitre et al. 2011). This type of disaster provides opportunities for research to assess potential effects of environmental impacts and implemented mitigation activities on plants, animals, and other natural resources (Garton et al. 2012, Vilella and Fogarty 2005, White et al. 2005). Although bias can be introduced into postdisaster experiments because treatments and replicates often cannot be allocated randomly, adequate replication for robustness may be lacking, and true or pseudocontrols may not be possible, scientific evaluations are still possible to elucidate effects on wildlife and other natural resources and guide subsequent habitat restoration and other conservation efforts (Diamond and Robinson 2010, Garton et al. 2012, Golightly et al. 2011). It is important for environmental impact assessments to evaluate effects on resident and migratory birds because they occupy diverse habitats and thus are likely to use areas affected by oil spills or other environmental accidents (Irons et al. 2000, Iverson and Esler 2010, Wiens et al. 2004). Unlike seabirds that have limited alternative offshore habitats following an offshore oil spill, landbirds may detect and subsequently avoid compromised areas and resources (Day et al. 1997). Most shorebirds, waterfowl, and other waterbirds are considered resource-sampling specialists because they frequently locate and readily use newly available habitats and resources, such as recently inundated wetlands (Hagy and Kaminski 2012, Heitmeyer 2006). If migrating birds can exploit habitats and resources disjunct from environmentally impacted areas, then increasing acreage of these areas within migratory-bird ranges may help mitigate the loss of environments compromised by oil spills or other disasters (Corn and Copeland 2010). It may be difficult for biologists, managers, and administrators to determine the scale and effort at which to mitigate beyond core areas of natural disasters such as oil spills to protect wildlife species, making the task of allocating limited funding and logistical resources particularly challenging (Estes 1998, Jessup 1998). In summer 2010, in response to the DWH, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) quickly established and funded the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) to provide private landowners in eight US Gulf and Atlantic coastal states with $40 million in cost-share assistance, through temporary conservation contracts, to create and manage wetland habitats on ~190,000 ha for use by migratory birds (NRCS 2012). Gulf coastal wetlands are important stopover and wintering habitats for diverse North American birds (Baldassarre and Bolen 2006; Chabreck et al. 1971, 1989; Elphick et al. 2010; Helmers 1992; Marty 2013). Hence, NRCS staff reasoned that creating and managing inland wetlands (e.g., flooded ricefields, Wetland Reserve Program [WRP] wetlands) could provide alternate habitat and resources for migrant and resident birds away from oil-impacted areas along the coast. Additionally, the NRCS assumed that providing these habitats on private lands would increase overall habitat carrying-capacity for these birds inland from the coast, although the NRCS recognized that no evaluation could precisely determine the extent to which birds originally destined for coastal wetlands used MBHI lands instead of coastal habitats. The many acronyms used in this paper are listed and explained in Table 1 for quick reference. Southeastern Naturalist J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 G68 Thus, several studies were initiated to assess environmental impacts associated with the DWH (Lubchenco et al. 2012, McNutt et al. 2012), including a cooperative agreement between NRCS and Mississippi State University (MSU) to conduct a three-year evaluation (2010–2013) of the MBHI focusing on waterbird use and food-resource availability in Oryza sativa L. (Rice) fields and WRP wetlands managed with MBHI funding in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) and Gulf Coast (GC) regions. Implementation of MBHI represented an innovative effort by a US federal agency to provide incentives to private landowners to apply prescribed management practices in response to a major environmental disaster. NRCS’s decision to evaluate MBHI demonstrated the agency’s interest in documenting waterbird benefits derived from the MBHI. The MBHI assessment that we describe here complements the assessments underway through the USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project, which involves multiple federal, state, and local agencies that cooperate to quantify environmental effects of management practices applied at large spatial scales on working agricultural and natural landscapes (Brinson and Eckles 2011, USDA-CEAP 2013). We evaluated MBHI management practices generally associated with Farm Bill conservation programs at multiple scales in the MAV and GC regions (e.g., WRP; Fleming et al. 2012, Olmstead et al. 2013). Our research team included biologists from Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Jackson, MS; Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, Jackson, MS; Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS; the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) Gulf Coast and Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Ventures (JVs), Vicksburg, MS; the University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO; and US Geological Survey’s Mississippi and Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units, Mississippi State, MS, and Columbia, MO, respectively. Scientists and graduate students from the two universities are continuing to work on MBHI assessment in six states. Each study was an independent or integrated evaluation of Table 1. Acronyms and affiliations of agencies or programs used in this p aper. Acronym Affiliation CA Conservation Areas CEAP Conservation Effects Assessment Project DWP Deepwater Horizon GC Gulf Coast JV Joint Ventures LCC Landscape Conservation Cooperatives MAV Mississippi Alluvial Valley MBHI Migratory Bird Habitat initiative MSU Mississippi State University NABCI North American Bird Conservation Initiative NAWMP North American Waterfowl Management Plan NRCS Natural Resources Conservation Service NWR National Wildlife Refuge USDA United States Department of Agriculture WRP Wetland Reserve Program Southeastern Naturalist G69 J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 particular aspects of MBHI; when and where integrated, projects were designed to enable spatiotemporal comparisons between MBHI-managed and paired non-managed wetlands and assess relative effects of different MBHI practices in providing habitat and food resources for migratory and resident waterbirds. Thus, our evaluation of MBHI was a designed natural experiment to assess management practices applied by incentivized landowners after the DWH oil spill. Although our studies will continue through 2015, preliminary results reported herein suggest that lands under MBHI management exhibited greater waterbird use and contained more potential food resources than non-MBHI wetlands during our research period. Moreover, current MBHI outcomes contribute to missions of three landscape-conservation initiatives: MBHI, Gulf of Mexico Initiative, and Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (NRCS 2012). For this paper, our primary goal was to communicate the objectives and conceptual research framework for the ecological assessment of the MBHI to ecologists, conservationists, and the public. We present general methodological approaches and preliminary descriptive results from several completed theses by graduate students (e.g., Feaga 2014, Lancaster 2013, Marty 2013, Tapp 2013, Weegman 2013). Additional analyses will be conducted on a more comprehensive data set. We also discuss the implications of our evaluation for integration with existing continental landscape-conservation initiatives, namely the NAWMP, JVs, and the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC; Jacobson and Robertson 2012). Field-site Description We conducted evaluations in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas beginning in fall 2010, after the DWH oil spill (Fig. 1). Our studies occurred in parts of two LCC regions: the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks and the Gulf Coast Prairie (US Department of Interior LCC 2013). Our study sites in NAWMP JV areas were located within the Lower Mississippi Valley, the Gulf Coast, and the East Gulf Coastal Plain. We describe each project below (Table 2; NAWMP 2012). Study Objectives and Design Waterbird and seed abundance and diversity in MBHI and non-managed wetlands We designed and implemented three studies to evaluate waterbird and food abundance and diversity on MBHI sites and comparable non-managed wetlands in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. Estimates of potential seed and aquatic invertebrate abundance will enable NRCS and other conservation partners to estimate carrying capacity of managed and unmanaged wetlands for resident and migratory waterfowl and other birds in the MAV and GC JV regions. Additionally, our protocols can be adapted for use by LCCs, NAWMP, and partners in other regions to acquire comparable data sets to guide habitat-conservation planning and implementation in North America. Southeastern Naturalist J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 G70 Table 2. Study-specific information for Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative evaluations on private lands, beginning in 2010. State(s) Land types Research focus Mississippi Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) Water quality wetlands and adjacent croplands Mississippi Catfish ponds (idle, active commercial) Bird and bird food abundance Alabama, Louisiana, Idle catfish ponds, croplands, inland and Bird and bird food abundance. Missouri, Mississippi coastal wetlands Isotopic analysis of bird tissues. Mississippi Croplands, wetlands Waterfowl habitat use and female mallard survival Louisiana, Texas Active and idled rice lands Estimation of waste rice/weed seed and bird abundance Arkansas, Missouri WRP wetlands Bird and bird food abundance Louisiana, Mississippi WRP wetlands Bird and bird food abundance Figure 1. Primary study areas for 8 separate or related evaluations of water quality and food abundance in wetlands and ricelands, and waterbird use of these habitats beginning fall 2010, following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010. Southeastern Naturalist G71 J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 In Louisiana and Mississippi, our objectives were to estimate seed and waterbird densities and species richness on WRP lands in the MAV portions of these states, and compare these metrics between MBHI and non-managed sites within replicate landowner properties (e.g., Fleming 2010, Fleming et al. 2012). We estimated relative abundances of detected waterbirds using conventional flush surveys from late summer 2011 through April 2012 (Fleming 2010, Weegman 2013). We also collected soil cores from wetlands in October 2011 and March 2012 to estimate moist-soil seed abundance for migrating and wintering waterbirds, in part so that LCC partners could then use these data to calculate duck and other waterbird energy-days (Kross et al. 2008, Reinecke et al. 1989). Similarly in Arkansas and Missouri, we quantified habitat use by fall-migrating shorebirds, wintering ducks, and other waterbirds on lands enrolled in MBHI, WRP lands not enrolled in MBHI, and managed publicly owned wetlands. We also estimated seed and aquatic invertebrate abundance and diversity at these wetlands (Tapp 2013). Additionally, in order to guide location and development of wetlands and associated habitat complexes that promote waterfowl and other waterbird use (e.g., Pearse et al. 2012), Tapp (2013) examined adjacent land-use and habitat composition around study wetlands to discern if these factors were correlated with avian use of wetlands. In Louisiana and Texas, we sampled abundance of waste Rice (i.e., grain remaining on harvested fields [Stafford et al. 2006]) and natural seeds in differently managed ricelands to estimate carrying capacity of ricelands in production and temporarily idled ricelands in the GC JV (Marty 2013). We also conducted surveys to estimate waterbird abundance and species richness, and characterize avian-community structure on MBHI and other ricelands in the GC JV region during autumn through spring. Although studies similar to ours have been conducted in the MAV (Kross et al. 2008; Manley et al. 2004; Stafford et al. 2006, 2010), an analogous study has not been conducted in the GC JV region, where Rice agri-systems and production strategies differ markedly from practices in the MAV (Marty 2013). Waterbird use and food abundance in aquaculture ponds In addition to studying croplands and WRP easements enrolled in MBHI, NRCS partnered with private landowners to provide waterbird and shorebird habitat in idled Ictalurus punctatus Rafinesque (Channel Catfish) production ponds in Mississippi. We conducted ground surveys to estimate waterbird abundance and species richness, and quantified seed and aquatic invertebrate abundance in idled and active catfish-production ponds during winters 2011–2013. Idled ponds were flooded to provide mudflats and shallow water (less than 30 cm) for shorebirds and other waterbirds, as prescribed under the MBHI program. Shorebird-habitat use and stable isotopes In another ongoing study, we are evaluating shorebird and other waterbird use of idle catfish ponds and wetlands in National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) and state conservation areas (CAs) in the MAV and GC regions of Alabama, Louisiana, Southeastern Naturalist J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 G72 Mississippi, and Missouri. Our objectives are to quantify species composition and relative abundance of migrating shorebirds using MBHI-managed idled catfish ponds in the MAV and GC regions during July–October, estimate invertebrate food resources for these birds, and use stable-isotope analyses (e.g., carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen) to infer shorebird migratory connectivity among locations in the MAV and GC regions. We will also assess presence of petroleum-derived hydrocarbon material in shorebird tissues, soil, and aquatic invertebrates from GC habitats. We are following survey protocols of the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Program Manual developed by the US Geological Survey and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS 2010). We are processing core samples for estimation of invertebrate biomass in MBHI-managed wetlands and will then conduct stable isotope analyses. Use of habitats by radiomarked mallards In a departure from ground-based visual surveys of wetland birds, we used radiomarked female Anas platyrhynchos L. (Mallard) to assess use of MBHI and other wetlands. We have completed two of four winters of our study to quantify survival, habitat use, and movements of radiomarked Mallards in western Mississippi in relation to MBHI and other wetlands in the MAV (Lancaster 2013). We treated each unique habitat used by ducks as a state in a multi-state model (White et al. 2006). Similarly, we categorized in-program (e.g., MBHI, WRP) and nonprogram lands as states in the model. These distinctions will allow us to identify specific MBHI, WRP, and other habitats that promote Mallard winter-habitat use and survival (Lancaster 2013). Wetland water-quality A doctoral research project used fixed monitoring stations to quantify nutrients and sediment in runoff in four seasonally flooded, moist-soil wetlands and four adjacent agricultural fields in the Mississippi MAV from July 2010 to May 2012 (A. Alford, Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, pers. comm.). This project was ancillary to the MBHI evaluation project, but the results are important to NRCS and other environmental conservation programs. For example, moist-soil wetlands comprise approximately 71,608 ha of WRP lands in Mississippi and can help reduce nutrient and sediment inputs to downstream wetlands and ultimately, lessen hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico (USDA-NRCS 2013a, b). Understanding wetland nutrient–sediment dynamics and retention within an agricultural landscape can inform and promote sustainable land-conservation practices in the future (Manley et al. 2009). Preliminary Results and Implications Waterbird and seed abundance and diversity in MBHI and non-managed wetlands Wetlands enrolled in MBHI contained over 100% more total seed biomass than non-managed wetlands (Weegman 2013). We also detected ~3 times more Anatini Southeastern Naturalist G73 J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 (dabbling ducks) and all ducks combined on MBHI-managed than control wetlands. Additionally, waterbirds other than waterfowl and shorebirds were over two times more abundant on MBHI-managed than non-managed wetlands. In Arkansas and Missouri, the number of dabbling ducks was more than two times greater in MBHI wetlands than non-managed private wetlands (Tapp 2013). Natural seed abundance during winter was 21% higher on MBHI wetlands than non-managed wetlands. Although aquatic invertebrate biomass and number of invertebrate families (i.e., an index of diversity) among managed and non-managed wetlands were statistically insignificant, secondary production of invertebrates during autumn (kg/ha) was 3 times greater on MBHI wetlands than non-managed wetlands (Tapp 2013). Moreover, invertebrate biomass during winter was approximately 40% greater on MBHI and non-managed wetlands than publicly owned managed wetlands. Collectively, these results suggest that management of MBHI wetlands increased the potential carrying capacity of these wetlands for migrating, wintering, and resident waterbirds in the MAV. Some preliminary results from our ongoing Louisiana and Texas waterbird study were presented in Marty (2013). Specifically, flooded ricelands on MBHI lands supported high densities of migrating and wintering waterbirds (~37 birds/ha) compared to non-flooded Rice fields (~5 birds/ha), suggesting that MBHI incentives for Rice producers to flood fields after harvest benefit these avain species (Marty 2013). As expected, non-flooded ricelands received little use by waterbirds, and we observed different bird communities in active and idle Rice fields. When both habitats were flooded, ducks and geese dominated fields in production, but idled fields were used by a diversity of shorebirds, wading birds, and other waterbirds. Landscape-scale complexes of created wetlands (e.g., flooded Rice fields and other croplands), idled fields with natural vegetation, and natural wetlands support diverse communities of waterfowl and wetland-dependent birds (Pearse et al. 2012). MBHI-managed ratoon-Rice fields (i.e., fields that produce two Rice crops/year) contained the greatest density of waste grain as potential food for wintering waterfowl. For example, waste Rice biomass in flooded ratoon Rice fields in Louisiana was ~3 times greater than the amount estimated in MAV Rice fields (Marty 2013, Stafford et al. 2006). When flooded, Rice fields in production and fields temporarily idled for soil and water conservation contained abundant natural seedbanks, which increased the foraging carrying capacity and available nutrient diversity of these habitats for waterbirds (Marty 2013). The autumn average of over 350 kg/ha in Gulf Coast Rice fields (active and idled combined) was 63% of the average seedmass found in managed moist-soil wetlands on public lands in the MAV (Kross et al. 2008). Although natural seed abundance was lower in these Rice fields, perhaps because natural seed recruitment into soils was reduced due to use of glyphosateresistant Rice varieties in production years, these natural seedbanks increased the foraging capacity and forage-nutrient diversity in ricefields for migrating and wintering waterfowl and other birds. Our study will continue through 2015, and additional data will increase the reliability of our Rice and natural seed estimates (i.e., goal = CV ≤ 15%; Kross et al. 2008, Marty 2013, Stafford et al. 2006) for use by Southeastern Naturalist J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 G74 NRCS and other GC JV partners. Our preliminary results underscore the importance of ricelands in the Gulf coastal prairies for migratory waterfowl and other waterbirds, assuming Rice fields are flooded through MBHI or other management efforts to make these habitats accessible for waterfowl and other waterbirds (Marty 2013). Waterbird use and food abundance in aquaculture ponds Feaga (2014) reported the following preliminary results from surveys designed to estimate waterbird and food abundance in idled and production Channel Catfish ponds. Under MBHI management, migrating and wintering waterfowl and other waterbirds on aquaculture impoundments in production exhibited similar densities to those on idled aquaculture impoundments (~22 and ~20 birds/ha, respectively); this finding suggests that both types of wetlands provide important migration and overwintering habitat for waterbirds (Feaga 2014). Additionally, our results suggest that different bird communities occur on idled aquaculture impoundments and those in production. When flooded, several species of diving and dabbling ducks and Fulica americana Gmelin (American Coots) were dominant in active aquaculture impoundments (Christopher et al. 1988, Dubovsky and Kaminski 1992), whereas idled impoundments were used by over 40 species of ducks, shorebirds, wading birds, and other waterbirds due to the presence of variable water depths (i.e., mudflats to shallowly flooded areas) and diverse plant communities (Feaga 2014). Feaga (2014) sampled moist-soil seeds in idled Channel Catfish ponds at 2 MBHI and 2 NWR sites in the Mississippi MAV and recorded 30 and 42 plant genera in MBHI and NWR sites, respectively. Mean density of seeds known to be waterfowl foods (Hagy and Kaminski 2012) was ~1.4 times greater on NWR than MBHI sites, likely because NWR sites were managed more actively for moist-soil plants and agronomic crops than MBHI sites (Feaga 2014, Kross et al. 2008). Shorebird habitat use and stable isotopes Preliminary results from shorebird surveys indicated that significantly more shorebirds were observed on shallowly flooded MBHI wetlands in idled Channel Catfish ponds from August through September in Mississippi than on Channel Catfish ponds in production, state and federal CAs, or Gulf coastal wetlands. Thus, MBHI-managed former Channel Catfish ponds provide important habitat for migrating shorebirds and other waterbirds during summer–fall, especially in drought years when other wetland habitat is limited. Use of habitats by radiomarked mallards Mallards wintering in the MAV of Mississippi exhibited the greatest survival rates when their home ranges included wetland complexes composed of forested, scrub-shrub, and moist-soil wetlands, flooded croplands, and permanent water bodies, instead of monotypic habitat landscapes (Lancaster 2013). Future conservation efforts on public and private lands should include creation of these multi-habitat wetland complexes to provide suitable habitat for Mallards, other ducks, and waterbirds, thus promoting avian winter survival and fitness (sensu Fretwell 1972). Southeastern Naturalist G75 J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 Additionally, >70% of 110 radiomarked female Mallards spent nearly 20% of monitored days on MBHI or other Farm Bill conservation-program lands (e.g., WRP). Daily survival of female Mallards was ≥98% on Farm Bill conservation lands during winter 2010–2012, and there was no female mortality on MBHI-enrolled wetlands during the same time period. Thus, MBHI and other Farm Bill wetlands apparently provided important habitats and resources for wintering Mallards and other ducks in Mississippi and may have contributed to the birds’ winter survival and potential return to breeding grounds. Wetland water quality Selected preliminary water-quality results from this study follow recommendations of A. Alford (unpubl. data). Total phosphorus, particulate phosphorus, nitrate nitrogen, and total suspended-solid concentrations were 42–89% lower in moist-soil wetland runoff than run-off from row-crop agricultural lands. Loads (kg/ha) of total suspended solids exported from moist-soil wetlands were 50% lower than loads exported from agricultural fields, and the majority of the sediments exported from wetlands was concentrated within less than 15% of the total discharge events. Estimates of total phosphorus loads from moist-soil wetlands were 2.39 kg/ha/year; a value greater than the assumed 1.0 kg/ha/year phosphorus-loading rate used in Mississippi (Alford 2014) to estimate the contribution from wetlands to nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River basin. The increase in phosphorus loads from moist-soil wetlands may be caused by the breakdown and decomposition of emergent vegetation in these wetlands during fall–spring inundation and run-off events. Because ours is the first empirical estimate of phosphorous-loading from natural moist-soil wetlands in Mississippi, replication is needed for validation. Discussion Decades prior to the MBHI, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) was enacted and associated JVs initiated continental efforts to reverse declining waterfowl populations by increasing habitat across North America (NAWMP 1986, 2012). The NAWMP (1986, 2012) has remained one of the most comprehensive wildlife-habitat initiatives and an example of effective landscapelevel conservation efforts at a continental scale implemented worldwide (King et al. 2006). Subsequent efforts, such as the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), sought to integrate all bird-management plans (e.g., waterfowl, shorebird, waterbird, landbird plans) to sustain game and non-game species and populations, and LCCs were implemented recently to conserve and manage natural resources at ecosystem-level scales in North America (King et al. 2006). The LCCs are applied conservation-science partnerships of states, tribes, federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities and other groups working collaboratively to (1) provide science and technical expertise needed to support conservation planning at the landscape scale, and (2) promote collaboration among the members to define shared conservation goals (http://www.fws.gov/landscapeconservation/ lcc.html). The NRCS is one of six US federal partners of LCCs, Southeastern Naturalist J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 G76 and the MBHI represents the first effort by a federal agency to create temporary agreements with landowners to provide alternate managed habitats for wetlanddependent wildlife in response to an environmental catastrophe. Private lands, which comprise ~70% of all land in the southeastern US, represent the greatest potential to restore wetlands and enhance agricultural areas important to waterbirds (Heard 2006). Landowner incentives provided by MBHI in the MAV and GC were critical because of the importance of these ecoregions to migrating and wintering waterfowl and other waterbirds (Chabreck 1971, 1989; Esslinger and Wilson 2001; King et al. 2006; Reinecke et al. 1989). Our ongoing evaluation of MBHI provides a comprehensive, science-based approach to assess waterbird use, food resources, and other ecological services (e.g., water quality) derived from managed and nonmanaged lands, and yields data that can be used by NRCS and other LCC partners for habitat-conservation planning and implementation in the MAV and GC regions. Moreover, our evaluation protocol can serve as a research and monitoring template for application beyond the southeastern US that may be useful in responding to future environmental catastrophes or planned conservation initiatives by NAWMP and LCC. As with MBHI, effective delivery of USDA Farm Bill conservation programs relies on sound science and the capacity for field staff to provide technical assistance. Burger (2006) reported that USDA conservation-program delivery at state and local levels varies in quality and is influenced by state-specific priorities, efficiency of program delivery by local or state USDA employees, knowledge of species life-history strategies and habitat needs by personnel administering the programs, and available funding. We contend that our studies, designed to provide a rigorous evaluation of MBHI and other lands, will further our understanding of how waterbirds respond to diverse habitats and inform more effective delivery of similar conservation efforts while documenting environmental benefits achieved through MBHI. Because significant fiscal investment is required for landscape-conservation delivery on private lands, incorporation of some level of biological monitoring is prudent (Burger 2006, Carwardine et al. 2008, Fisher and Dills 2012, King et al. 2006). This approach seems particularly appropriate given recent interest in applications of conservation planning, with mounting emphasis on prioritizing, implementing, and managing biological diversity and other natural resources inside and outside protected areas (Carwardine et al. 2008, Guerrero et al. 2012). Thus, continued fiscal support of MBHI and similar programs (e.g., Conservation Effects Assessment Project) that provide financial incentives to landowners to apply prescribed management practices can create and improve habitats for migratory and resident waterbirds and other wildlife on private lands. In addition, continued biological monitoring of conservation efforts will provide valuable information to assess the ecological and economic effectiveness of conservation programs and justify their continuance (Lindenmayer and Likens 2009). Ultimately, understanding effects of non-breeding habitat conditions, such as the continentally important MAV and GC, on reproduction and recruitment in migratory birds is paramount (e.g., Gill et al. 2001, Heitmeyer and Fredrickson Southeastern Naturalist G77 J.B. Davis, E. Webb, R.M. Kaminski, P.J. Barbour, and F.J. Vilella 2014 Vol. 13, No. 4 1981, Kaminski and Gluesing 1987). Our monitoring studies will provide important results regarding how conservation programs on private lands can be used to benefit migratory wetland birds across broad landscapes. We have begun to link use of several habitat types by non-breeding Mallards to the birds’ survival in the Mississippi portion of the MAV (Lancaster 2013). However, identifying and linking resource use to demographic processes for waterfowl and other birds at larger scales throughout the annual cycle remains elusive and additional research is needed (Block and Brennan 1993, Gill et al. 2001, Morrison et al. 2010). Acknowledgments We are indebted to the USDA-NRCS, especially D. Flynn, P. Heard, K. Nelms, and C. Rewa, for supporting our work. Numerous state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations provided invaluable support of the research projects. We also thank W. Barrow (USGS Wetlands Center, Lafayette, LA); M. Brasher (Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Lafayette, LA); K. Cordell (Missouri Department of Conservation, Puxico, MO); R. Crossett (USFWS, Cotton Plant, AR); J. Foret (NOAA, Lafayette, LA); M. Kaminski (Ducks Unlimited, Richmond, TX); S. Linscombe (Rice Research Station, Louisiana State University, Rayne, LA); B. Pendley (USFWS, Puxico, MO); and J. Pitre (NRCS, Alexandria, LA), and members of their staffs for all of the logistical assistance and support during our studies. Lastly, a huge cadre of cooperating state, federal, and private landowners made all of this work possible. This manuscript has been approved for publication by the FWRC as WFA 396. Literature Cited Alford, A.B. 2014. Ecosystem services of moist-soil wetlands: Water quality benefits and crayfish harvest, economics, and consumer acceptance. Ph. D. Dissertation. Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS. 172 pp. Baldassarre, G.A., and E.G. Bolen. 2006. Waterfowl Ecology and Management. Second Edition. 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