Land-use change, invasive species, and climate change have dramatically impaired ecosystem function worldwide. Understanding how changes to ecosystems impact species of conservation concern is essential for effective conservation delivery. Of particular importance are environments that provide disproportionate ecosystem services. Throughout the Great Plains Landscape Conservation Cooperative, playas provide disproportionate ecological services, including essential stopover habitat for migratory waterbirds. Anthropogenic change to playa distribution, abundance, and function may impact the ecosystem services provided, with demographic consequences for priority species. We will address partner needs by developing a suite of decision support tools identifying key constraints and potential management solutions for migrating waterbirds, including Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), and Western Sandpiper (C. mauri). Species distribution models (SDM) extrapolate species-habitat relationships into spatially explicit predictions of population distribution, and are capable of predicting population responses to independent changes in local and landscape conditions, making them an ideal tool for facilitating proactive management strategies. However, because habitat use is not indicative of the services provided (i.e., ecological traps), traditional SDMs often fail to capture the consequences of habitat decisions, and in doing so may inadvertently misdirect management actions to create preferred, but unsuitable habitat conditions. To ensure management efficacy, we will develop ecologically relevant SDMs that incorporate food resource availability, vegetation characteristics, and management activities. In doing so, we will identify which habitats are preferred, the potential consequences of habitat use, and management solutions. In addition to ecological knowledge, effective management requires identifying socioeconomic obstacles to conservation. Through regional surveys we will identify conservation impediments by evaluating stakeholder perceptions of wetland values and conservation limitations, which then can shape future conservation approaches.
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