Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Thomas L. Crisman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joni Downs-Firat, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark Rains, Ph.D.


climate change, development, Florida, conservation


Worldwide, shorebird habitat is being destroyed and degraded by development and sea level rise. Shorebirds depend on availability of pristine, undisturbed coastal habitats for resting and feeding during migration as well as for reproduction. Migratory shorebirds using the East Atlantic Flyway visit the Gulf of Mexico Beaches of Pinellas County, Florida as a stopover site during Fall and Spring migration. In addition to hosting migratory species, Pinellas County beaches are home to several year-round resident species that breed during Summer. Pinellas County is the most densely populated county in Florida, and its Gulf Coast is heavily developed with commercial and residential properties. Additionally, hospitality and tourism are the number one industries in the area, especially along its beaches. Pinellas County is also vulnerable to sea level rise and erosion from storms due to its location. Beach renourishment projects are frequently conducted on the Pinellas Gulf Coast to increase beach width and elevation; and as a result, the beaches have grown wider and more elevated in the past 25 years. In September 2018, an acute outbreak of red tide occurred off the west coast of Pinellas County that lasted for approximately 3 months. In addition to the red tide outbreak, Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm, made an indirect impact on the Florida Gulf Coast during October 2018. As a result of heavy rain bands from the hurricane, storm surge impacted Pinellas County. In order to examine the effects of a red tide outbreak, a major hurricane, and the extent of development and sea level rise in Pinellas County on shorebird distribution, bird surveys were conducted for 1 year on 3 beaches with varying degrees of development (undeveloped, moderately developed, and highly developed) and human disturbance on the county’s Gulf Coast. Short-term, potentially catastrophic events such as red tide and a major storm did not significantly impact shorebird distribution, but long-term disturbance such as development strongly dictated the abundance of birds as well as species richness at the sites even when created habitat was provided to attract them and beaches were made wider and higher from renourishment. These results follow a global trend of development as a major contribution to shorebird habitat loss.