Redefining the Classroom

Eastern Lake Superior piping plovers keep LSSU, Algoma biologists busy

Posted: August 16th, 2012

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Lake Superior State University and several research partners have been kept busy this summer monitoring nesting piping plovers in Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula.

Thanks to a $150,000 federal grant, the researchers have been on northern Lake Michigan and southern Lake Superior beaches to continue research on the endangered bird that prefers to nest on wide, bare, remote Great Lakes shorelines.

The plover monitoring project is one 30 ecological restoration projects that was selected to receive a total of $8.5 million in grant funding through Sustain Our Great Lakes, a bi-national, public–private partnership that includes the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, ArcelorMittal, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A Great Lakes piping plover (Photo by Shannon Rowell-Garvon)

A print-quality copy of this photo may be found here

The project takes on an international flair in the Eastern U.P. because it involves biology faculty and students from both sides of the U.S./Canada border. LSSU biology professor Jason Garvon Ph.D. and his spouse, Prof. Shannon Rowell-Garvon of Sault, Ontario's Algoma University, have been guiding their students in conducting surveys, and monitoring and protecting plover nests.

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The program includes captive rearing and invasive species control to improve reproductive success and improve nesting habitat for the plover. In addition to the $150,000 grant, the project includes $163,459 in matching funds for a total of $313,459.

"We have been keeping busy this summer," said Shannon. "There were three nests at Vermilion, three at Whitefish Point and two at Port Inland. The chicks hatched in late June and early July and all were banded within seven days after they hatched."

She said each nest contained four eggs and of the nests monitored this year 16 of the 32 chicks successfully fledged.

The Garvons and their students set up nest "exclosures," which protect nesting plovers from predators, but allow the birds to move on and off the nest so they may feed.

KEEPING PREDATORS OUT -- LSSU Biology Prof. Jason Garvon (l) works with a student crew to build an "exclosure" around a piping plover nest. The structure protects plovers from predators on wide open beaches but allows the birds to move on and off the nest to feed. From l-r with Garvon are Algoma University student Heather Douglas and LSSU students Cody Besteman, Selena Creed and Renee Schlak. (Photo by Shannon Rowell-Garvon)

A print-quality copy of this photo may be found here

Piping plover research has been continuing at LSSU in some form since the 1980s but this year the nesting birds have been particularly active, according to Jason.

"This has been the best year so far for plovers at Vermilion and Whitefish Point, so we had to move one of our LSSU students up there to join the other LSSU student and the Algoma University student already out there," he said. "This is a great opportunity for our students and we are very pleased to be funded through 2013."

Students involved in the research project include Renee Schlak, an LSSU conservation leadership major from Onaway; Selena Creed, an LSSU fisheries and wildlife management major from Cheboygan; Cody Besteman, an LSSU wildlife management major from Hudsonville; and Heather Douglas, an Algoma University biology major from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Due to participation in collaborative efforts and pursuit of competitive grants, the research activity has increased in recent years.

"Including our grant from the spring of 2010, we are now up to $701,096 in total grant awards for this project," Jason said, noting that more than half of the total comes from matching funds put forth by LSSU and partners that include the Detroit Zoological Society, U.P. Land Conservancy, Algoma University, Eastern and Central U.P. Cooperative Weed Management Areas and Little Traverse Conservancy.

For its part, the U.P. Land Conservancy manages two plover nesting sites in Grand Marais and Gulliver. Algoma University manages one plover monitor, and the U.P. Cooperative Weed Management Areas control invasive plants near plover nesting habitats in the eastern and central U.P.

The Detroit Zoological Society rears abandoned chicks and eggs and then releases the birds prior to fledging. The society's captive reared facility took in 12 eggs this season and six chicks were successfully reared and released in the wild.

The projects funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Federation all focus on improving the quality and connectivity of wetland and coastal habitats, and the 30 selected projects will help protect, restore and enhance the ecological integrity of the Great Lakes and surrounding region. Some of the other work to be supported with grant funding includes improving passage for fish and other aquatic organisms, controlling invasive species, restoring wetland hydrology, and improving stream habitat structure. -LSSU-

CONTACT: Tom Pink, 906-635-2315,; John Shibley, 635-2314,; Prof. Jason Garvon, 635-2471,; Shannon Rowell-Garvon, 705-949-2301, ext. 4311,