Seaducks on the Great Lakes

Staff Lead: Chelsea Kross

In collaboration with Principle Investigator Beth Ross (USFWS), and Co-Investigators Michael Schummer (SUNY-ESF), Jacob Straub (The College at Brockport), Shannon Badzinski (Environment and Climate Change Canada) and Doug Tozer (Birds Canada)

Sea duck use of the Great Lakes, particularly the Lower Great Lakes (Lakes St Clair, Erie and Ontario), during spring migration, fall migration and winter has increased considerably over the past few decades. Limited information about sea duck abundance and distribution in the Great Lakes region, as well as the connectivity of the Great Lakes population to other populations hampers harvest and habitat management and conservation. Commercial and energy development on the lake shore and on the lakes themselves along with changes in water quality, contaminants, and outbreaks of diseases all threaten sea ducks and require sound baseline knowledge about responses to environmental and habitat changes. Moreover, climate change will increase extreme weather events, precipitation, and temperature, resulting in large shifts in habitat availability for sea ducks. We propose developing species distribution models to inform stakeholders about habitat use of sea ducks on the Lower Great Lakes. We will make use of existing datasets by combining data (e.g., aerial and ground count surveys) into integrated species distribution models for multiple species or species groups of interest. Our model will link underlying population abundance with habitat and environmental covariates in the Great Lakes region. We will then use the model to simulate future population abundance under different climate change scenarios, such as reduced ice coverage, increased water temperature, and more variable ice conditions. These models will also allow us, through sensitivity analyses, to identify the factors that contribute most to uncertainty in these models, and which could be addressed through a formal adaptive management program whereby changes in where and when surveys take place are made and tested to determine if uncertainty has indeed been reduced in the model output in locations where reductions in uncertainty are most needed. Additionally, we will work with stakeholders to develop monitoring designs using output from the integrated species distribution model to build a framework for future potential survey approaches. The outcomes and products we anticipate from this work include species-specific maps of past/current distribution/abundance as well as maps for future climate scenarios, evaluation of stakeholder feedback based on potential monitoring designs, and information to contribute to the Sea Duck Key Habitat Sites Atlas. Any potential future monitoring efforts will have important information on key habitat and areas in the Lower Great Lakes for sea ducks as well as information about the greatest data uncertainties for populations of non-breeding sea ducks.