Commuters: A waterbird provides a new view of how species may utilize cities and wildlands




Shlepr, Katherine R
Evans, Betsy A
Gawlik, Dale E

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Traditional classifications of vertebrates’ responses to urbanization fail to capture the behaviour of those that rely on both urban and wildland resources for population persistence. Here, we use the wood stork (Mycteria americana), a species that makes daily foraging trips up to 74 km away from its nest, as an example of a previously unrecognized response to urbanization. We monitored nests and sampled diets at stork colonies in south Florida (USA) during 2014–2020 to investigate how storks use urban habitats. We found that urban development now comprises up to 51.6% of the land cover within the 30-km core foraging area surrounding colonies and that storks access alternative prey types within these urban areas. Our results also showed that urban-nesting storks outperformed wildland-nesting storks when the hydrological condition of the wetlands was suboptimal for foraging. Though storks still require healthy wetlands for population persistence, urban habitat benefitted storks when hydrological patterns were not ideal for prey production in wildlands. This ‘commuter’ response to urbanization, whereby individuals opt to utilize both urban and wildland resources within short time periods, may apply to other vertebrates with large home ranges.



adaptive response, animal behaviour, anthropogenic resources, habitat selection, phenotypic plasticity, prey switching, urban, wildland-urban interface


This project was supported by the Florida Department of Transportation (BDV 27-922-02), the Waterbird Society’s Kushlan Award (2019) and the Harte Research Institute’s Crutchfield Fellowship Endowment (2021–2022).


CC BY 4.0 DEED Attribution 4.0 International


Shlepr KR, Evans BA, Gawlik DE (2023) Commuters: a waterbird provides a new view of how species may utilize cities and wildlands. Environmental Conservation 50: 179–185. doi: 10.1017/ S0376892923000152