Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Wildlife and Fisheries Science


Interior least terns (Sterna antillarum) and piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) are listed as endangered or threatened over all of their breeding range, including South Dakota (SD). Investigations were made into the status, distribution, production, habitat characteristics, and factors limiting productivity of least terns and piping plovers in SD. The study area included the Missouri River from the North Dakota state line to Ponca State Park, Nebraska, and the lower 1/3 of the Grand, Moreau, Cheyenne, and White rivers. Least tern numbers increased substantially (253; 367) between 1986 and 1987, but plover numbers increased only slightly (187; 197). Terns and plovers utilized 83 sites during the two years. Most tern and plover colonies occurred on sandbars below Gavins Point and Fort Randall dams, but some sand and gravel beaches, points, or parking lots were used along Oahe Reservoir, and some sand and gravel beaches were used along the Cheyenne River. All tern and plover colony sites were characteristically barren or with short (<10 cm), sparse (<10%) vegetative cover. Dominant plant species varied among habitat types. One-year turnover rates of colony sites ranged from 0.57 to 0.78 for least terns, and from 0.55 to 1.00 for piping plovers. Tern and plover turnover rates were high, probably because of the ephemeral quality of nesting habitat, coupled with high amounts of recreational activity during the 1986 and 1987 nesting seasons. In 1986, production was poor for both species due to high water levels on the Missouri River throughout the nesting season. Production improved in 1987, and generally was moderate to good for both species. However, tern and plover production was poor both years on the Fort Randall Dam to Springfield, SD, river ranch. Tern and plover distribution and production in SD is largely determined by the relation of nesting habitats to water levels. Fluctuations in water levels affect the amount of beach and sandbar habitat available for nesting, and can cause inundation of colony sites during the nesting season. Recreational activity, including picnicking, sunbathing, swimming, and fishing, can also adversely affect tern and plover distribution and productivity.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Least tern -- Research -- Missouri River
Plovers -- Research -- Missouri River
Least Tern -- Habitat
Waterfowl -- Research -- Missouri River


Includes bibliographical references (pages 77-82)



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


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