The impacts of record lake-level rise and interacting stressors on black tern (Chlidonias niger) nesting in Lake St. Clair, Michigan
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The impacts of record lake-level rise and interacting stressors on black tern (Chlidonias niger) nesting in Lake St. Clair, Michigan

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    The black tern (Chlidonias niger) is a migratory shorebird that nests on floating vegetation in freshwater wetlands. Since 1991, Great Lakes breeding populations have fallen by almost 90%. Black terns face multiple stressors, yet the scope of these threats remains unclear. To understand potential drivers of these declines, we analyzed long-term hatching success data in Lake St. Clair regarding proximate ecological, and large-​scale hydrological and geospatial habitat features. Landcover and depth classes were collected using remote sensing and were evaluated relative to nest success via binomial general linear models. Results were applied to land cover maps to estimate change in habitat characteristics tied to nest vulnerability. We found that nests with significantly lower hatching success were surrounded by deeper water, more dense, monotypic vegetation, and were closer to the wave-exposed open area of the main lake. These characteristics shifted unfavorably with rising lake levels, leading to reduced nesting habitat availability, 56% reduction in hatching success and 77% population decline. Ideal breeding habitat was unable to shift upland as the lake margins were either developed or invaded by Phragmites australis. Subjected to progressively deeper and unstable habitat, nests likely failed more frequently due to inclement weather and aquatic predators. The interaction between climate change-driven lake-level rise, invasive species and coastal development are increasingly eliminating safe nesting habitat for black terns. We conclude that management must account for multiple stressors in mitigating habitat loss and protect as much wetland refugia as possible so black terns can adjust to continued hydrologic extremes.
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