Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Biological Sciences

First Advisor

David R. Brown

Second Advisor

Stephen C. Richter

Third Advisor

Valerie E. Peters

Abstract

Bird communities are frequently used as bioindicators to assess environmental conditions, including in wetland habitats. I developed an avian index of biological integrity (IBI) for wetlands of Kentucky as an intensive assessment method to supplement an existing rapid assessment method used in regulatory programs. Birds are useful indicators because they are sensitive to environmental changes, abundant in various landscapes, occupy higher trophic levels, and can be sampled in a cost-effective manner. Breeding bird point count data from 103 sites were used to calculate a set of 49 avian community metrics. Avian metrics were tested for correlation with independent landscape, hydrology and habitat measures of wetland condition. High performing, non-repetitive metrics were tested using a model averaging approach to find the best set of avian community metrics that predicted an independent measure of wetland condition. Final metrics were scaled and assembled into an Avian IBI. I found four superior metrics to be significantly related to the independent disturbance index. The final metrics used to create the Avian IBI were percent presence of insectivores, percent presence of ground gleaners, percent presence of residents and Shannon Wiener Diversity Index. Both Shannon Wiener Diversity Index and percent presence of insectivores decreased with increasing disturbance. Percent presence of ground gleaners and percent presence of residents had a positive relationship to disturbance. Previous studies found similar results with insectivorous guilds being intolerant to human disturbance, whereas ground-gleaning guilds tend to be more tolerant. This cost-effective and time-efficient IBI complements existing assessment tools for wetlands of Kentucky.

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