CLEMSON — A Clemson University professor has been awarded a $1 million grant to study movement patterns and at-sea habitat use of brown pelicans along the southeast coast of the United States to obtain baseline data that can be used to help researchers understand potential risks to birds in the marine and coastal environment.

Clemson University professor Patrick Jodice has received a $1 million grant to study brown pelican movement patterns and at-sea habitat use in the South Atlantic Planning Area, which covers the coastlines of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida.

Brown pelicans will be studied under the grant.
Image Credit: Patrick Jodice / Clemson University

The study is funded by the U.S. Geological Survey in the U.S. Department of Interior and is led by Patrick Jodice, an associate professor, and Brian Leo, a doctoral student, of the forestry and environmental conservation department and the South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. The study involves studying brown pelican movement and patterns of habitat use in the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) South Atlantic Planning Area (SAPA). The SAPA covers the coastlines of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida. Currently the area does not contain any gas and oil development, although leases were proposed in offshore waters of the region in 2015. These proposed leases have not been finalized.

“Brown pelicans can be good indicators of the health of coastal, estuarine and marine systems in this area,” Jodice said. “This study will assess at-sea habitat use and migration paths of adult brown pelicans that breed in the SAPA and, should energy development occur there in the future, be used to map potential risk areas.”

According to Jodice, the study is extending efforts to map areas pelicans use, as well as where pelicans move, in the Gulf of Mexico by applying similar techniques along the coast from South Carolina to Florida.

The region supports about 5,500 pairs of pelicans and the study plans to tag approximately 100 birds with satellite transmitters. Data from the transmitters will provide daily information about the range of areas where the birds eat and live during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Additional data on diet, chick health and colony size also will be collected.

Brown pelicans can be good indicators of the health of coastal, estuarine and marine systems

Brown pelicans can be good indicators of the health of coastal, estuarine and marine systems.
Image Credit: Patrick Jodice / Clemson University

“These data will be used to determine high-, moderate- and low-use areas at sea throughout the year,” Jodice said. “Data on the birds’ movement and habitat use will be paired with data available for marine habitat, wind and current, and environmental data to provide individual- and colony-based risk assessments for each species. This study will give a better understanding of environmental threats for brown pelicans breeding throughout the South Atlantic Planning Area.”

The study is set to begin in Spring 2017 and continues through September 2019. Data collected from the study will be used for decision-making in the South Atlantic Planning Area by agencies such as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Environmental Protection Agency and Audubon Society, as well as state agencies in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Updates on pelican locations and movements will be posted at http://www.atlanticseabirds.org/.

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This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Geological Survey under Grant/Cooperative Agreement No G16AC00395. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Geological Survey. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Geological Survey.