Application of the index of marsh bird community integrity to coastal wetlands of Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario, Canada

Smith-Cartwright, L. A. and Chow-Fraser, P.
Ecological Indicators
(2011) 11: 1482-1486


Ecological indicators have gained increasing attention within the scientific community over the past 40 years. Several taxonomic groups have been used successfully as indicators including most prominently fish, invertebrates, plants, and birds because of their ability to indicate environmental changes. In the Laurentian Great Lakes region, there has been recent concern over the applicability of using indicators on a basin-wide scale due to species range restrictions and lake-based differences. The objective of this study was to determine the ability of the Index of Marsh Bird Community Integrity (IMBCI) to indicate land use disturbance surrounding coastal marshes of Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario. To meet this objective, we surveyed birds and vegetation at 14 marshes in Georgian Bay (low land use disturbance) and Lake Ontario (high land use disturbance). Even though Lake Ontario marshes were surrounded by significantly more altered land than Georgian Bay marshes, and had poorer water quality, we found significantly fewer birds in Georgian Bay marshes (mean = 8.2) compared to Lake Ontario (mean = 13.7) and no significant difference in IMBCI scores. This inconsistency could be due to vegetation differences affecting the strength of the index, because Georgian Bay wetlands had significantly more bulrush (Schoenoplectus spp.) and floating vegetation, while Lake Ontario wetland vegetation was taller and cattail-dominated (Typha spp.). These findings suggest that the IMBCI may not be useful on a basin-wide scale in the Great Lakes region in detecting human disturbance surrounding wetlands.

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