Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Committee Member

Patrick Jodice, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Juliet Lamb

Committee Member

John Dindo

Committee Member

Troy Farmer

Committee Member

Rob Baldwin

Abstract

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis carolinensis) are numerous throughout the northern Gulf of Mexico, where they and many other coastal bird species utilize the diverse habitats available. Understanding the habitat needs of Brown Pelicans can help inform broader restoration and conservation efforts in the region, much of which is focused on seabird- orientated restoration and management projects; however, data gaps for a variety of different sea- and waterbirds have limited the success of many projects. I studied two aspects of the reproductive ecology of Brown Pelicans: survival of nests and broods, and prey utilization. In Chapter 2, I used generalized linear models to model the relationship between habitat and weather variables and the daily survival of nests and broods. My results suggest that weather conditions overwhelm the importance of habitat parameters on the survival of both nests and broods, and restoration should focus on habitat features that decrease the negative effects of weather on the reproductive success of Brown Pelicans. In Chapter 3, I described the taxonomic and proximate composition of meals from Brown Pelican chicks during 3 months of their maturation, compared the taxonomic composition of prey in chick meals to the prey species composition of available prey within Mobile Bay, and investigated the life history patterns of a focal prey species, Gulf Menhaden (Brevoortia patronus). My results provide support for the trophic importance of abundant forage fish, such as Gulf Menhaden and other small schooling fish species and suggest that freshwater and estuarine systems like Mobile Bay are important foraging areas during the breeding season. Together, these results can inform restoration and management of Brown Pelican breeding colonies throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Since both nest and prey quality affect nestling survival, and ultimately recruitment, my work helps to explain and clarify factors affecting Brown Pelican population parameters, and thus to inform conservation and management decisions.

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