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Predictors of Gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) nest survival in artificial coastal saltpans, Bohai Bay, China

Wu, Fuxing and Lei, Weipan and Lloyd, Huw and Zhang, Zhengwang (2020) Predictors of Gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) nest survival in artificial coastal saltpans, Bohai Bay, China. PeerJ, 8. e10054-e10054.

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Abstract

Background Coastal saltpans are a common supratidal human-modified wetland habitat found within many coastal landscape mosaics. Commercial salt production and aquaculture practices often result in the creation of exposed coastal substrates that could provide suitable breeding habitat for waterbird populations; however, few studies have quantified waterbird breeding success in these artificial wetlands. Methods Here we examine the nesting behavior of the Gull-billed tern (Gelochelidon nilotica) breeding in the Nanpu coastal saltpans of Bohai Bay, Yellow Sea, China over three consecutive nesting seasons (2017–2019) by using nest survival model in Program MARK. Results The results revealed that nest survival of Gull-billed terns in coastal saltpans (0.697) was higher than previously published estimates from other regions, with an estimated daily survival rate (DSR) of 0.982 ± 0.001 (±95% CI). High nest survival was mainly attributed to low levels of human disturbances and low predation rates, while exposure to strong winds, flooding and silting were the main factors causing nest failure. Model-averaged estimates revealed that eggs laid in nests located on ‘habitat islands’ with feather or clam shell substrates were most likely to hatch. Initiation date, nest age, clutch size and quadratic effects of nearest-neighbor distance, nearest distance to road and nearest distance to water were all significant predictors of nest success, but the nest survival declined overall from 2017 to 2019 due to the degradation and loss of breeding habitat anthropogenically caused by rising water levels. Discussion Coastal saltpans represent an alternative breeding habitat for the Gull-billed tern populations in Bohai Bay, but conservation management should prioritize flood prevention to improve the extent and quality of breeding habitat, concurrent with efforts to create further ‘habitat islands’ with suitable nesting substrate.

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