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Research bolsters importance of horseshoe crab spawning for migrating shorebirds
Date:7/5/2011

s or storm frequency in the mid-Atlantic region change significantly because of climate change, the timing of egg spawning would likely also change and become mismatched with when red knots and other shorebirds arrive to feed on the nutrient-rich eggs. Shorebirds depend primarily on celestial cues for when to migrate and are not as susceptible to environmental variation as horseshoe crabs, making a mismatch more possible.

"If the timing of migration and the availability of food resources in this case, horseshoe crab eggs do not coincide, migrating shorebirds, such as the red knot, that come to Delaware Bay each spring, could be adversely affected, both individually and as a population," McGowan said.

The research also found evidence that the annual survival of these birds is not only partly dependent on their body mass when they leave Delaware Bay but is also strongly related to snow conditions when the birds reach their arctic breeding grounds.

"We were surprised to find that snow depth in the arctic breeding grounds increases the chances of survival for both heavy and light birds," said McGowan. Some possible explanations are that birds may skip breeding in years with heavy snow and thus have higher chances of survival, or heavier snow may mean more food availability when the snow melts. But, McGowan noted, the cause of this unexpected result needs to be directly studied through further research.

The study has important management implications for both species. "These results indicate that managing horseshoe crab resources in the Delaware Bay has the potential to improve red knot population status," McGowan said. McGowan and other USGS scientists have been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state fish and wildlife agencies, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to develop a horseshoe crab harvest adaptive management plan that incorporates the results of this survival analysis study.


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Contact: Conor McGowan
cmcgowan@usgs.gov
334-844-9231
United States Geological Survey
Source:Eurekalert

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