Restoration of overwash processes creates piping plover (Charadrius melodus) habitat on a barrier island (Assateague Island, Maryland)
On Assateague Island, an undeveloped barrier island along Maryland and Virginia, a foredune was constructed to protect the island from the erosion and breaching threat caused by permanent jetties built to maintain Ocean City Inlet. Scientists and engineers integrated expertise in vegetation, wildlife, geomorphology, and coastal engineering in order to design a habitat restoration project that would be evaluated in terms of coastal processes rather than static features. Development of specific restoration targets, thresholds for intervention, and criteria to evaluate long-term project success were based on biological and geomorphological data and coastal engineering models. A detailed long-term monitoring plan was established to measure project sustainability. The foredune unexpectedly acted as near-total barrier to both overwash and wind, and the dynamic ecosystem underwent undesirable habitat changes including conversion of early-succession beach habitat to herbaceous and shrub communities, diminishing availability of foraging habitat and thereby reducing productivity of the Federally-listed Threatened Charadrius melodus (piping plover). To address these impacts, multiple notches were cut through the constructed foredune. The metric for initial geomorphological success-estoration of at least one overwash event per year across the constructed foredune, if occurring elsewhere on the island-was reached. New overwash fans increased island stability by increasing interior island elevation. At every notch, areas of sparse vegetation increased and the new foraging habitat was utilized by breeding pairs during the 2010 breeding season. However, the metric for long-term biological success-an increase to 37% sparsely vegetated habitat on the North End and an increase in piping plover productivity to 1.25 chicks fledged per breeding pair-has not yet been met. By 2010 there was an overall productivity of 1.2 chicks fledged per breeding pair and a 1.7% decrease in sparsely vegetated habitat. Ideally, overwash restoration will sustain the availability of foraging habitat, but future foredune modifications may be necessary to maintain or increase overwash processes and piping plover habitat in the project area. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Keywords: Charadrius melodus, coastal engineering, overwash, piping plover, rare species, vegetation cover, Regional terms, USA, Maryland, Assateague Island