Applying Public Participation Geographic Information Systems for coastal wading bird conservation
Coastal estuaries in the northern Gulf of Mexico are important habitat for wading birds, but are threatened by land use and ecological changes. Conservation has been demonstrated to be more effective when stakeholders are included in the decision-making process. Public Participation Geographic Information Systems (PPGIS) facilitates the inclusion of stakeholder preferences in the planning process by allowing a direct spatial comparison with other ecological data. In this study, we used a PPGIS survey of residents of two counties on Alabama's Gulf Coast to identify wading bird conservation hotspots as identified by local residents. Additionally, we assessed the ability of general public respondents to accurately identify wading bird habitat, determined whether participants associated wading bird habitat with particular land cover types, and examined whether respondents identified areas with high wading bird species richness. We found that respondents could accurately identify suitable wading bird habitat on a map of the study area, but underrepresented riparian forest, which is an important habitat for many wading bird species. Additionally, participants tended to prioritize areas that support higher wading bird species richness. Thus, this study demonstrated how PPGIS can function as an important tool for incorporating both stakeholder management preferences and identifying knowledge gaps.