Recent research has shown that landscape-level changes, namely habitat loss and fragmentation, can play an important role in determining the distribution of species across a variety of ecological systems. However, the influence of these large-scale factors in relation to small-scale factors, such as local vegetation structure or composition, is poorly understood. We used Bachman's Sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis) as a surrogate species to measure the relative importance of local vegetation and large-scale habitat distribution in the Onslow Bight region of North Carolina, USA. We conducted repeated point counts at 232 points within 111 habitat patches between April 10 and July 20, 2011. We then fit a series of single-season occupancy models, including both local and landscape-level predictors, to identify those that best explained the distribution of Bachman's Sparrows. We documented a strong response to vegetation characteristics best maintained via prescribed fire, but the most influential predictor of Bachman's Sparrow occupancy was the amount of habitat within 3 km. Specifically, the probability of Bachman's Sparrow occurrence was close to zero in landscapes comprised of <10% habitat, regardless of local vegetation conditions. Our results illustrate the strong influence of habitat loss on Bachman's Sparrow and likely on other members of this community, many of which are of high conservation concern.
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