Annual variation in food densities and factors affecting wetland use by waterfowl in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley

Heath M. Hagy, Jacob N. Straub, Michael L. Schummer, Richard M. Kaminski


Spatial and temporal heterogeneity in habitat quantity and quality, weather and other variables influence the production of food and the distribution of waterfowl, making it difficult to predict carrying capacity accurately. Food densities for waterfowl, which are key parameters of energetic carrying capacity models, were examined in managed moist-soil wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests in or near the Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) of the southern United States of America, to determine variation in those densities across wetlands and years. Secondly, the relationship between migratory waterfowl density in managed wetlands and local and mid-latitude factors north of the study area was examined to identify mechanisms influencing waterfowl density at latitudes used during winter. At individual wetlands and within years, food densities were highly variable, but coefficients of variation (CV) at the scale of the MAV and nearby areas across years were relatively low (moist-soil CV = 21%, bottomland hardwood forest CV = 11%). Local precipitation was inversely related to waterfowl density in managed moist-soil wetlands, and this relationship was stronger than other local and mid-latitude factors including weather severity and temperature. Our data suggest that simplistic daily ration models may reasonably incorporate fixed estimates of food density for managed moist-soil wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests to predict energetic carrying capacity of waterfowl habitat at the scale of the MAV across multiple years. However, substantial variation in food densities among locations and time periods likely limits the utility and accuracy of these models when scaled down temporally or spatially. Therefore, the challenge in predicting annual carrying capacity for waterfowl in the MAV likely depends less on precisely estimating food densities at the scale of individual wetlands and more on determining spatial and temporal availability of habitats that contain food resources for waterfowl.

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