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Functional Equivalency between Rice Fields and Seminatural Wetland Habitats

Chris S. Elphick
Conservation Biology
Vol. 14, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 181-191
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2641917
Page Count: 11
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Functional Equivalency between Rice Fields and Seminatural Wetland Habitats
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Abstract

Evaluating the potential for anthropogenic habitats to act as surrogates for the natural habitats they replace is a key issue in conservation biology. In California, flooded rice fields are used by numerous aquatic birds during winter. If this habitat functions similarly to more natural wetlands, increased flooding may help replace the extensive wetlands that occurred in the region prior to agricultural development. I tested whether food abundance, perceived predation threat, foraging performance, and the way in which birds allocate their time to different behaviors differed between flooded rice fields and seminatural wetlands for several species of aquatic bird. When appropriate, I also compared flooded and unflooded fields. Invertebrate densities did not differ among habitats. Seminatural wetlands had less rice grain but more seeds from other plants than the two rice habitats. The frequency with which predators passed over a feeding area was lower in flooded fields than in unflooded fields or seminatural wetlands. Most differences in feeding performance and time allocation among habitats were small and statistically insignificant. For some species, feeding efficiency was greater in seminatural wetlands than in flooded fields. Increasing attack rates and the amount of time spent feeding when in flooded fields, however, may allow birds to compensate for reduced efficiency. Multivariate analyses showed that group size, predation threat, time of day, date, and water depth often were associated with behaviors, but that these variables rarely accounted for habitat differences. Flooded fields apparently provide equivalent foraging habitat to seminatural wetlands and, because of reduced predation threat, may be a safer habitat for waterbirds. Thus, if managed appropriately, one of the world's dominant forms of agriculture can provide valuable waterbird habitat.

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