In the past two decades, Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge has been increasingly recognized as important habitat for both breeding and migratory shorebirds. North American snowy plovers Charadrius nivosus in particular rely on the nearly 5,000-ha salt flat at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, which thousands use as breeding and stopover habitat. Elsewhere on the Southern Great Plains, decadal declines up to 75% within snowy plover subpopulations have been documented and attributed to vegetation encroachment, increased rates of nest predation, and decreased availability of fresh surface water. Despite many attempts to estimate this species' abundance across the continent, to date, no known attempt at distance sampling of snowy plovers has occurred. To address this paucity of data, we assessed feasibility of distance sampling methods to accurately estimate snowy plover abundance and detectability. Distance sampling surveys (2017-2018) indicated high detection probability (P = 0.80) and the population abundance estimate across the salt flat extrapolated to 3,307 individuals. The distance-sampling population abundance estimate is lower than population abundance estimates determined by two previous studies within the past decade but far greater than 2,105 estimated for a study in 2006. Overall, distance sampling snowy plovers at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge proved to be an effective addition to preestablished survey protocols but further investigation is needed to compare accuracy and precision of methods used in this study, annual surveys conducted by Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, and other potential snowy plover surveys.
- Distance sampling
- Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge
- Snowy plover