Local populations that fluctuate synchronously are at a greater risk of extinction than those that do not. The closer the geographic proximity of populations, the more prone they are to synchronizing. Shorebird species select habitat broadly, and many breed across regions with diverse nesting habitat types. Under these conditions, nearby populations may experience conditions sufficiently different to prevent population synchrony, despite dispersal. In the U.S. Northern Great Plains, the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus), federally listed as Threatened, is a migratory shorebird species that nests on the shorelines of rivers, reservoirs, and alkaline lakes. We assessed the degree to which local plover breeding population abundances were correlated (population synchrony), changed over time (population stability), and were influenced by environmental factors such as available habitat, precipitation, and within-season reservoir level rise. We found that the abundances of breeding populations nesting in riverine and reservoir habitats were the most synchronous, while populations nesting in alkaline lake habitats exhibited the greatest stability. Changes in local breeding population abundances were not explained by a single factor across habitat types. However, the abundances of local populations nesting in alkaline lake and river shoreline habitats were positively correlated with changes in nesting habitat availability. Our results suggest that dispersal among populations nesting in either river or reservoir and alkaline lake shoreline habitat may have an overall stabilizing effect on the persistence of the Great Plains Piping Plover metapopulation.
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Vol. 118 • No. 3