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projects > across trophic level system simulation (atlss) > snail kite > 2001 Proposal

Estimation of Critical Parameters in Conjunction with Monitoring the Florida Kite Population

Project Proposal for 2001

PROJECT TITLE: Estimation of Critical Parameters in Conjunction with Monitoring the Florida Snail Kite Population

Principal Investigator - Dr. Wiley M. Kitchens
Mail address: USGS, Florida Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, 117 Newins-Ziegler Hall, Gainesville, Florida 32611
Phone: (352) 846-0536

Co-principal Investigator - Dr. Donald L. DeAngelis
Mail address: USGS, University of Miami, PO Box 249118, Coral Gables, Florida 33124
Phone: (305) 284-1690

Co-principal Investigator - Dr. Victoria J. Dreitz, Post Doctoral Associate
Mail address: Florida Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, 117 Newins-Ziegler Hall, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611
Phone: (352) 846-0546


1. To monitor the status of the snail kite population trends in central and southern Florida.

2. To provide estimates of demographic parameters for the spatially explicit individual-based model in ATLSS.

3. Provide relevant data for structural modeling approach to determine causal effects of hydrology on snail kite demographic parameters (collaboration with Bruce Pugesek, USGS).

Project Background:

Life history traits and the population dynamics of a species may vary considerably across space and over time. All to often biologists have viewed variability as noise interfering with the precision of parameter estimates, rather than as a source of information about the population of interest. However, understanding the influence of environmental (spatial and temporal) variation on demographic parameters is essential to understanding the population dynamics of a given species (Ricklefs 1973, Rhodes and Odum 1996). Recognition of information needs for management decisions and conservation strategies (Rhodes and Odum 1996) has resulted in an increased emphasis on correlations to spatial and temporal environmental variation in relation to demographic studies (Ricklefs 1973, Stearns 1992).

The snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) is an endangered raptor whose distribution in the United States is restricted to the wetlands of South Florida Ecosystem, including watersheds of the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, Kissimmee River, and Upper St. Johns River. In addition to being endangered, it is an obligate wetland dependent species feeding almost exclusively on one species of aquatic snail, the apple snail (Pomacea paludosa). The viability of the kite in the United States is therefore dependent on the hydrologic conditions (both long and short-term) appropriate for maintaining a mosaic of both its forage and nesting habitats across the region.

There have been several attempts at modeling snail kite populations. Nichols et al. (1980) developed deterministic and stochastic models in an attempt to better understand the life history of snail kites, and more recently Beissinger (1995) developed a population viability model based on "environmental states". As Beissinger (1995) pointed out, a weakness of his model was the lack of a spatial component. Currently, Dr. Wolf Mooij of the Nederlands Institute of Ecology in colloaboration with D. De Angelis, R. Bennetts, and W. Kitchens, is developing a individual-based model on snail kites in Florida as part of the ongoing restoration efforts in central and southern Florida. The model gives an individual-based, spatially explicit description of the dynamics of the snail kite population in relation to the hydrological conditions of central and southern Florida. Providing statistically valid demographic parameter estimates has been critical for development and remains critical for the application of the individual-based model. Given that snail kites are dietary specialists on the apple snail it is critical to link kite demography to the dynamics of apple snails. Currently snail dynamics as related to complex hydrologic changes are being studied and modeled (Dr. Phil Darby, University of West Florida). Incorporating both the dynamics of the apple snails, the habitat conditions among the various units comprising the South Florida hydroscape, and current and planned hydrologic regimes as sources of demographic influences is critical to the on-going modelling effort.

Purpose/Relevance to the South Florida Ecosystem:

This study will provide reliable estimates of critical temporal and spatial factors structuring the demographic responses of snail kites as well as to provide a sound monitoring program during implementation of restoration.

Study Design:

Mark-resighting methods have a long and solid statistical foundation for estimating survival and population size (Lebreton et al. 1992; Nichols 1992). And more recently, mark-resighting methods have been developed to estimate recruitment and the rate of population change (Pradel 1996, Nichols et al. In press). In 1992, a mark-resighting program was initiated to estimate survival of snail kite (Bennetts and Kitchens 1997). More recently, this approach has been used to estimate the population size and rate of population change in snail kites (Dreitz 2000). Our study design would continue the use of mark-resighting techniques to monitor the snail kite population. Our approach would also attempt to incorporate spatial and temporal components of environmental variation (i.e., habitat conditions in wetland units, hydrological dynamics, apple snail densities) to assess how these factors influence the demographic parameters (i.e., survival and reproduction). The most efficacious approach, manipulative experiments (Harrison and Cappucino 1995) are impractical for threatened and endangered species. We believe that our proposed approach employing observational studies that concentrate on valid parameter estimation, model selection, exploration of process variation (i.e., understanding the components of variance estimates), and examination of different factors under varying environmental conditions is the only feasible alternative.

Expected Benefits:

It is important to recognize that for the snail kite, the argument as to whether a single general factor, such as some hydrological variable, regulates or limits the population becomes problematical when interactions are considered. The influence of hydrology on the population dynamics of the snail kite varies depending on changes in other factors (i.e., food resources, vegetation structure, climate). We believe that our proposed approach will aid in statistically resolving the magnitude and relative importance of these often closely correlated factors. This will then allow refinement to the management models providing critical linkage to the design and evaluation of restoration alternatives. In addition these studies will additionally provide long-term observations that are directly translatable to snail kite monitoring needs.


Reports and Deliverables:
Type of Product* No. of Copies Due Date
1. Brief letter report with the following: [1] date of receipt of executed contract (i.e. start date), [2] this "table" with specific due dates, [3] status of progress made towards providing data/metadata/model-source-code, [4] draft text w/ graphics/slides for 2-pager Fact Sheet. Original + 2 + electronic copy 60 days after award of contract.
2. 1st Trimester Report – a brief report updating progress/problems to date and all data and metadata file, & model source code to date. Plus, final of 2-pager Fact Sheet. Original + 2 + electronic copy 120 days after award of contract.
3. 2nd Trimester Report - with updated data/metadata file[s] & model source code. Plus, "Request for Continued Funding" for the next year funding. Original + 2 + electronic copy 240 days after award of contract.
4. Annual Report with all data to date with metadata file[s], fully documented model source code. Original + 2 + electronic copy 1 Year after award of contract.
* Note: Manuscripts, peer reviewed publications, book chapters, graduate student thesis/dissertation, etc. are both acceptable and desirable as chapters or sections of annual/final reports. At least one 2-page fact sheet is required for each of these major types of publications.

Literature Cited

Beissinger SR (1995) Modeling extinction in periodic environments: Everglades water levels and Snail Kite population viability. Ecological Applications 5: 618-631.

Bennetts RE and Kitchens WM (1997) The demography and movements of Snail Kites in Florida. Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Technical Report No. 56. University of Florida, Gainesville.

DeSante DF, O’Grady DR, and Pyle P (1999) Measures of productivity and survival derived from standardized mist-netting are consistent with observed population changes. Bird Study 46: S178-188.

Harrison S and Cappuccino N (1995) Using density-manipulation experiments to study population regulation. In: Cappuccino N and Price PW (eds.) Population dynamics: new approaches and synthesis. Academic Press, San Diego, California, USA.

Lebreton JD, Burnham KP, Clobert J, and Anderson DR (1994) Modeling survival and testing biological hypotheses using marked animals: a unified approach with case studies. Ecological Monograph 62:67-118.

Nichols JD (1992) Capture-recapture models. Bioscience 42:94-102.

Nichols JD, Hensler GL, and Sykes PW Jr (1980) Demography of the Everglade kite: implications for population management. Ecological Modeling 9: 215-232.

Nichols JD, Hines JE, Lebreton J-D, Pradel R (In press) The relative contributions of demographic components to population growth: a direct estimation approach based on reverse-time capture-recapture. Ecology.

Pradel R (1996) Utilization of capture-mark-recapture for the study of recruitment and population growth rate. Biometrics 52: 703-709.

Rhodes OE Jr., Odum EP (1996) Spatiotemporal approaches in ecology and genetics: the road less traveled. In: Rhodes OE Jr., Chesser RK, Smith MH (eds.) Population dynamics in ecological space and time. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 388p.

Ricklefs RE (1973) Fecundity, Mortality, and Avian Demography. In: Farner DS (ed.) Breeding biology of birds: proceedings of a symposium on breeding bird behavior and reproductive physiology in birds. National Academy of Sciences, Washington D.C.

Stearns SC (1992) The evolution of life histories. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 249p.

Time Line:

Project Duration: May 2000-May 2005


Annual reports on anniversary of contract start date.

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