Evaluating population-level responses to conservation action following large-scale disturbance can improve the efficacy of future habitat conservation measures. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy storm surges cleared vegetation and opened inlets through the barrier islands, Fire Island and Westhampton Island, New York, creating Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus) habitat. Storm effects prompted an island-wide stabilization project, which had the potential to negatively affect novel Piping Plover habitat. Certain sections of Fire Island were designed to create and/or improve habitat (hereafter, restoration areas) to mitigate possible habitat loss or degradation. Since Piping Plovers in New York appear to be habitat-limited, we anticipated positive population growth following habitat creation. From 2013 to 2018, we captured and banded 152 adults and 353 chicks, and monitored 279 nests and 160 broods. We developed an integrated population model to assess demographic processes in response to hurricane created-habitat (2013–2018) and the creation of restoration areas (2015–2018). We observed positive population growth in 3 of 5 yr, and overall growth throughout the period ( = 1.13). Immigration and reproductive output were correlated with population growth (r = 0.92 [95% CI: 0.22 to 0.98] and 0.84 [95% CI: –0.47 to 0.95], respectively). Compared with the rest of the study area, restoration areas had higher chick survival, and lower nest survival and after second-year site fidelity. The result was population growth in restoration areas ( = 1.14) similar to the whole study area. In the short term, restoration areas seemed to mimic natural Piping Plover habitat. Vegetation removal, an important process in renewing natural Piping Plover habitat, likely will be necessary to maintain habitat suitability. Efforts to increase immigration of new breeding adults into the system, and to improve reproductive output, primarily by habitat creation or maintenance, are likely to have the greatest local effect on population growth.
Despite being listed under the Endangered Species Act for more than 30 yr, and intensive management, Piping Plovers on the Atlantic Coast have not met population recovery goals across much of their breeding range.
Hurricane Sandy increased available nesting habitat (dry sand) by over 150%. Following Hurricane Sandy, we monitored a population of individually marked birds on Fire Island and West Hampton Island, New York, for 6 yr. The area monitored included restored habitat, to evaluate the effectiveness of Piping Plover targeted habitat management.
The population increased 90% in the 6 yr following Hurricane Sandy, primarily because of immigrant adults, and local reproductive success. The reproductive output and population growth in restoration areas were similar to the rest of the study area.
Overall, Hurricane Sandy habitat creation was positive for this local plover population.
Efforts to allow future hurricane storm surges to create habitat, along with continued management, will improve long-term population persistence.