Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

David N. Koons


David N. Koons


Frank Howe


Kimberly A. Sullivan


Increased growth of the mid-continent population of Lesser Snow Geese (LSGO) has led to the degradation of coastal salt marsh and sedge meadow habitats across Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems. It is believed that a human-induced trophic cascade caused by agricultural habitat modification along migratory routes and wintering grounds has contributed to the increase in LSGO numbers, which has resulted in the alteration of habitat quality and connectivity along northern breeding and stopover sites used by various avian species. This habitat degradation has been shown to decrease the presence and temporal persistence of ground-nesting passerine and shorebird species at a local level and may lead to decreases of Arctic / sub-Arctic breeding avian species across landscapes that LSGO utilize and degrade.

In 1999, four paired study plots were established, and used in conjunction with a single study plot from 1976, in order to measure the composition of habitat parameters (barren ground extent; graminoid and shrub cover) and to estimate the number of avian nests found in these plots. Using this historical data along with our findings from 2010 and 2011, our main objectives were to: 1) document the change in the aforementioned habitat parameters over time; 2) estimate the local nesting occupancy rates of the common Savannah Sparrow (SAVS), a robust and adaptable ground nester; and 3) determine which habitat variables are indicative of the rates of change and occurrence of nesting by SAVS within the study plots.

By using ANOVA, linear mixed effects, and multi-state occupancy models, results suggest that an increase in barren ground, decreases in shrub and graminoid cover, and a loss of connectivity between suitable nesting patches has led to a 10% (λ = 0.90) annual decline in the probability that SAVS nesting occurred across the study plots from 1999 to 2010.

These model results may be used to estimate long-term trends in persistence of breeding SAVS and other similar ground-nesting avian species that share habitats with LSGO along Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems. (93 pages)




This work made publicly available electronically on February 20, 2013.