The Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is a species of conservation concern in eastern North America, where declines in its population have been documented over the past several decades. A high proportion of the population occurs in forested areas of southern West Virginia, where it may be threatened by loss and degradation of forested habitat from mountaintop mining and valley fill (MTMVF). We examined, from a landscape perspective, the effects of forest fragmentation (in particular, effects of fragment size and response to edges) on Cerulean Warblers, using territory mapping techniques and geographic information system (GIS) technology in portions of four counties in southwestern West Virginia. We quantified landscape characteristics from digitized aerial photographs and measured microhabitat characteristics on spot-mapping plots. Territory density of Cerulean Warblers was 4.6 territories per 10 ha in intact forest and 0.7 territories per 10 ha in fragmented forest. The best habitat model included both landscape and microhabitat variables and indicated that territory density increased with increasing snag density, percentage of canopy cover >6–12 m and >24 m in height, and distance from mine edge. Models for predicting microhabitat use at the territory level were weak, indicating that microhabitat characteristics of territories were similar to habitat available on spot-mapping plots. The species did not appear to avoid internal edges, such as natural canopy gaps and open-canopy or partially open-canopy roads. Territory placement on ridges was greater than expected, and in bottomlands (ravines) and midslopes less than expected, given availability. Fifty percent of all territories were on ridges. Preference for ridges suggests that MTMVF may have a greater effect on Cerulean Warbler populations than other sources of forest fragmentation, given that ridges are removed in MTMVF. Our data indicate that Cerulean Warblers are negatively affected by mountaintop mining from loss of forested habitat, particularly ridgetops, and from degradation of remaining forests, as evidenced by lower territory density in fragmented forests and lower territory density closer to mine edges.
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Vol. 122 • No. 2