Restoration and conservation may be enhanced by using ecologically-based methods for prioritizing actions. Efforts are currently underway to restore river flows to the San Joaquin River in California's Central Valley. Although fish are the primary restoration target for restored flows, complementary efforts are being designed to protect, enhance, and restore riparian and floodplain habitats to benefit the larger ecological community. We describe our efforts to use bird habitat distribution models to inform and prioritize conservation activities along the San Joaquin River. We demonstrate the integration of habitat distribution models into an established conservation planning process that illustrates the synergies and tradeoffs of protecting high quality habitat for multiple species-groups and other restoration opportunities on the San Joaquin River. We used quantitative models to develop habitat quality indices for marsh birds, early-successional riparian birds, and mid/late-successional riparian birds, and used these indices to rank 18 sites under consideration along the San Joaquin River. We found little evidence that the rankings of the 18 sites for the three habitats were correlated, suggesting that any prioritization decisions will need to consider the quality of all three habitats, rather than one habitat acting as a surrogate for the others. Considering the habitat model rankings together with expert opinion rankings based on existing habitat quality, restoration potential, and flood management opportunities allowed us to identify sites that ranked high across multiple criteria. These results illustrate a simple process by which quantitative information from habitat models can be combined with expert opinion to inform priorities for protection and restoration.
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Vol. 32 • No. 4