The influence of land ownership on the density of people and staging Red Knot on the coast of North Carolina


66 – 74

1 April 17

Bryan D. Watts


Bryan Watts
Center for Conservation Biology, College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University, Williamsburg,
Virginia 23187-8795, USA.


Public Files

The rufa subspecies of the Red Knot Calidris canutus rufa was elevated to threatened status by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2014. This population uses beaches along the Atlantic Coast of North America for a final refueling event before leaving on a flight to breeding grounds in the high Arctic. Human demand for beach access has become extreme over recent decades and habitat loss was one of the primary listing factors in the federal declaration. Many coastal areas required by migrating knots have reached terminal ‘build out’ where shorelines are either privately held and developed or owned by the government. Within these settings, human management has become a primary focus of habitat management. I conducted aerial surveys
along the coast of North Carolina (513 km) during the third week of May in both 2011 and 2012 to: (1) determine the distribution and abundance of Red Knots as well as people, and (2) assess the influence of land ownership on both. Total numbers of Red Knots were 1,868 and 2,806 for 2011 and 2012, respectively, representing an average, coast-wide density of 4.7 knots km-1. This estimate is an order of magnitude lower than similar counts in Virginia and Delaware Bay. Counts of people were 10,396 and 8,305 for the two years, representing an average density of 18.2 people km-1. Land ownership had a significant influence on the density of both knots and people, as average knot density was four times higher on government-owned lands compared to private lands, while human density was ten times higher on private lands. More than 80% of all knots used beaches with human densities below five people km-1, with these conditions being primarily found on government lands resulting from beach closures. Staging knots appear to also benefit from seasonal beach closures implemented to protect nesting Piping Plovers Charadrius melodus and sea turtles along the North Carolina coast.