Staging areas and migratory stopovers of wetland birds have the potential to function as geographic bottlenecks; entire populations within a flyway may be affected by the quality and quantity of available wetland habitat at stopover sites. Although approximately 90% of playa wetlands in the Rainwater Basin (RWB) region of south-central Nebraska, USA, have been destroyed, the area still provides essential stopover habitat for >10 million waterfowl each spring. We evaluated community patterns and species associations to assess importance of assembly rules in structuring wetland bird communities during migration and to better facilitate multispecies conservation and management strategies. We surveyed 36–40 playas twice weekly in the RWB and observed approximately 2.6 million individual migratory wetland birds representing 72 species during 3 spring migrations 2002–2004. We evaluated spatial and temporal species co-occurrence patterns of geese, dabbling ducks, diving ducks, and shorebirds using null model analysis. Goose species co-occurrence scores did not differ from random in any year of the study, suggesting that goose species frequently use the same habitats during migration. Co-occurrence patterns among dabbling ducks were not different than expected by chance in any year; however, when we evaluated co-occurrence at a weekly scale, dabbling ducks co-occurred less often than expected during weeks of peak migration (high abundance), indicating that dabbling duck species spatially segregated at high densities. Diving duck co-occurrence patterns did not differ from random in any year, suggesting that diving duck species used the same habitats during migration. Shorebird species co-occurred less often than expected in 2002 and 2004, and during weeks of high shorebird abundance, indicating that shorebird communities were distinctly structured during those times. Most association values among lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens) and dabbling duck species were positive, indicating dabbling ducks did not avoid wetlands with snow geese, a concern for waterfowl managers. However, we frequently observed snow geese and dabbling ducks using different microhabitats within a wetland, which indicate species associations and co-occurrence patterns may have occurred at a finer spatial scale than we measured. This approach of co-occurrence analysis will allow wildlife managers charged with multispecies management at migration stopover sites to make informed conservation and management decisions based on community structure rather than historic single-species approaches.
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