Coastal ecosystems are under increasing pressure from human activity, introduced species, sea level rise, and storm activity. Hurricanes are a powerful destructive force, but can also renew coastal habitats. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel altered the barrier islands of North Carolina, flattening dunes and creating sand flats. American Oystercatchers (Haematopus palliatus) are large shorebirds that inhabit the coastal zone throughout the year. Alternative survival models were evaluated for 699 American Oystercatcher nests on North Core Banks and South Core Banks, North Carolina, USA, from 1999–2007. Nest survival on North Core Banks increased from 0.170 (SE = 0.002) to 0.772 (SE = 0.090) after the hurricane, with a carry-over effect lasting 2 years. A simple year effects model described nest survival on South Core Banks. Habitat had no effect on survival except when the overall rate of nest survival was at intermediate levels (0.300–0.600), when nests on open flats survived at a higher rate (0.600; SE = 0.112) than nests in dune habitat (0.243; SE = 0.094). Predator activity declined on North Core Banks after the hurricane and corresponded with an increase in nest survival. Periodic years with elevated nest survival may offset low annual productivity and contribute to the stability of American Oystercatcher populations.
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Vol. 39 • No. 4