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Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are an important prey species and a dominant herbivore across much of their North American range, and researchers have questioned the influences of forestry practices that alter habitat for hares and the potential community-level effects on carnivores. We examined the effects of precommercial thinning (PCT) from 1 to 11 years posttreatment on snowshoe hares. In the commercial forests of northern Maine, USA, we counted and cleared hare pellets twice a year during 2001 and 2002 on >46 km of pellet transects across 30 regenerating conifer stands (17 treated with PCT) previously treated with an aerial application of herbicide. We compared densities of snowshoe hare pellets among 3 development classes with (1 yr after thinning, 6 yr after thinning, and 11 yr after thinning) and without thinning (stands with a similar history of clearcut and herbicide treatment but no thinning). During both years, densities of hares were lower in stands treated with PCT than in similar unthinned stands across the 3 development classes and during both leaf-off and leaf-on seasons (P < 0.001). Within both thinned and unthinned stands, hare density was greatest in stands in the 1-year development class when compared to the 6-year and 11-year development classes, but a statistical difference (P = 0.048) among classes was evident only during leaf-off seasons. Precommercial thinning was associated with densities of snowshoe hares that were approximately half of those in similar unthinned stands up to at least 11 years posttreatment; however, thinned stands may retain densities of hares greater than stands managed using other forest harvesting regimes. Our results apply to core portions of stands with crop trees spaced at 1.8–2.4-m intervals following complete overstory removal and herbicide treatment. We advocate caution when applying our results to other thinning regimes or across broader spatial scales.
We studied the dusky flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri) at 8 sites in central Idaho, USA, in 2002 and 2003 to examine relationships among vegetation cover, density of breeding conspecifics, and indicators of habitat quality. Number of breeding territories and number of fledglings per hectare were positively associated, suggesting that the dusky flycatcher experienced increased reproductive success where it bred at the highest densities. However, the relationships between nesting success, annual reproductive success, number of fledglings per hectare, and amount of understory cover showed substantial annual variation. Nesting success did not differ significantly across sites or between years. Both reproductive success, expressed as young produced per hectare (range: 0.34–3.09 in 2002 and 0.79–3.82 in 2003) and young produced per nesting attempt (range: 0.71–2.78 in 2002 and 1.11–3.10 in 2003), differed across study sites in each year. Mean clutch size did not differ significantly among sites or years. Mean egg weight showed significant variation across some sites within years and was associated negatively with the 3 measures of reproductive success in 2002, although small sample sizes prevented reliable inference about the appropriateness of this measure as an indicator of habitat quality. Mean clutch size and mean egg weight were not associated with vegetation cover variables. Thus, dusky flycatcher reproductive success showed inconsistencies with individual vegetation measurements at the site scale. Forest managers who use vegetation treatments to increase amounts of understory shrub cover (e.g., by removing portions of the overstory conifer canopy) should increase densities of this species and, in turn, increase number of fledglings produced, but these responses appear to be better measured at the territory or nest scales than at the stand or site scales.
Researchers have ascribed use of areas by grazers after burning to changes in plant community structure, community composition, nutritional quality, and seasonal availability. Researchers can better evaluate these alternatives if they monitor changes in plant communities following burning concurrently with changes in animal use. We examined responses of elk (Cervus elaphus) to prescribed burning of areas dominated by sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) in south-central Montana, USA, within which we monitored changes in plant production, nutritional quality, and community composition and diversity from 1989 to 1999. Elk increased use of burned sites 1–2 years after burning, then reduced use to levels associated with preburn conditions over the next 3–10 years. Burning transformed low-diversity, sagebrush-dominated communities into relatively high-diversity, grass- and forb-dominated communities that persisted for 10 years, but forage biomass and protein content declined on burned sites after initial short-term increases. Changes in elk use closely tracked changes in production and nutritional quality of plants. Therefore, we concluded that increases in quantity and quality of forage were the primary cause for increased use of burned sites by elk. Managers may observe only short-term responses from elk following burning but can expect longer-term increases in plant diversity and persistence of grass–forb communities on burned sites for >10 years that may be important to elk or other grazing ungulates.
The red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) is a widespread, adaptable species that continues to decline across North America. We examined stand, nest-tree, and cavity characteristics of red-headed woodpeckers in restored savannas within the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin, USA, during 2002 and 2003. Based on availability, red-headed woodpeckers selected snags and trees with greater dead limb length. Red-headed woodpeckers nested in areas with greater basal area, cavity density, snag density, limb-tree density, and total dead limb length. Red-headed woodpeckers exhibited a decadent-tree threshold that was most accurately measured by the number of trees with dead limbs around (0.04 ha) nests. We found that the probability of a red-headed woodpecker nest being present greatly increased above the decadent-tree threshold. Woodland managers throughout the red-headed woodpecker's extensive breeding range can use our results and recommendations to guide decadent-tree retention for this species.
Lesser Canada geese (Branta canadensis parvipes) are indistinguishable from other subspecies of small Canada geese on the wintering grounds using current survey methods. Consequently, managers are unable to adequately measure their abundance. Without direct estimates of abundance, researchers often use estimates of vital rates that influence abundance (e.g., annual survival) to monitor potential impact of harvest on the population. Based on capture and re-sighting data records of 567 geese marked from 1994 through 1998, we calculated annual survival and recovery rates for different age and sex classes of white-cheeked geese staging in interior Alaska. We compared those survival and recovery rates with those of other neck-collared white-cheeked geese. The best approximating model allowed survival to vary by age class while holding Seber's recovery probability (r̂) constant over sex, age class, and time. We estimated annual survival to be 0.49 (SE = 0.05) for hatch-year geese and 0.68 (SE = 0.03) for after-hatch-year geese based on the weighted average of all models with a change in Akaike's Information Criterion adjusted for small sample size and lack of fit <4. Estimates of annual survival of white-cheeked geese in this study are among the lowest and recovery estimates are among the highest for migratory populations of neck-collared geese. Low survival estimates of Canada geese in our study suggest that harvest rates may be higher than in many other populations. Surveys to estimate abundance or other population parameters such as reproductive success and recruitment are necessary to determine whether this population is self-sustaining. Furthermore, we recommend monitoring abundance and harvest of small white-cheeked geese east and west of the Cascade Mountain Range separately to better determine harvest pressure on white-cheeked geese wintering east of the Cascades.
We fitted radiotransmitters to 68 lilac-crowned parrot (Amazona finschi) fledglings from 1996 to 2003 to determine the survival and development of juveniles during their first year after leaving the nest. Overall, first-year survival was 73% (CI = 53–94%) and all mortalities occurred within 5 weeks of fledging, with highest mortality in the first week postfledging. Survival varied between years, influencing recruitment of independent young in the population. Nesting lilac-crowned parrots produced 0.70 independent young per egg-laying pair during 1996–2003. Lowest productivity of 0.25 independent young per pair occurred in 2003, with 40% postfledging survival. Juvenile development after fledging was characterized by variations in mobility, distance from the nest, and separation distance between siblings. Mobility and distance of young birds from the nest increased linearly with months postfledging. The first 2–3 weeks after fledging were characterized by low mobility and survival of young parrots, making this the most critical phase postfledging. The dependency period for young parrots extended to 4–5 months postfledging and was characterized by increased mobility and low separation between siblings, as juveniles traveled in family groups. Independence occurred in month 5 and was marked by a significant increase in mobility and separation between siblings, indicating the break-up of family groups. The first weeks after leaving the nest were crucial for survival and highlight the need for secure habitats where fledglings can improve flight and locomotory skills. The 4–5-month dependency of young parrots may be a key period for development, enhancing survival, and establishment in the breeding population. Release programs need to replicate learning and development acquired during the postfledging dependency phase to enhance survival of captive-reared psittacines. Researchers should conduct surveys of parrot group sizes during the dependency period 1–4 months after the end of nesting to provide reliable demographic data on annual recruitment of wild populations.
We studied breeding dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), yellow-rumped warblers (Dendroica coronata), and spruce-nesting birds from 1997 to 1998 among forests with different levels of spruce (Picea spp.) mortality following an outbreak of spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis) in Alaska, USA. We identified species using live and beetle-killed spruce for nest sites and monitored nests to determine how the outbreak influenced avian habitat selection and reproduction. We tested predictions that 1) nesting success of ground-nesting juncos would increase with spruce mortality due to proliferation of understory vegetation available to conceal nests from predators, 2) nesting success of canopy-nesting warblers would decrease with spruce mortality due to fewer live spruce in which to conceal nests, and 3) both species would alter nest-site selection in response to disturbance. Juncos did not benefit from changes in understory vegetation; nesting success in highly disturbed stands (46%) was comparable to that in undisturbed habitats throughout their range. In stands with low spruce mortality, nesting success of juncos was low (5%) and corresponded with high densities of red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Yellow-rumped warblers nested exclusively in spruce, but success did not vary with spruce mortality. As disturbance increased, nesting warblers switched from selecting forest patches with high densities of live white spruce (Picea glauca) to patches with beetle-killed spruce. Warblers also placed nests in large-diameter live or beetle-killed spruce, depending on which was more abundant in the stand, with no differences in nesting success. Five of the 12 other species of spruce-nesting birds also used beetle-killed spruce as nest sites. Because beetle-killed spruce can remain standing for >50 years, even highly disturbed stands provide an important breeding resource for boreal forest birds. We recommend that boreal forest managers preserve uncut blocks of infested forest within managed forest landscapes and practice partial harvest of beetle-killed spruce rather than commercial clear-cutting of infested stands in order to sustain breeding bird populations until natural reforestation occurs. Because breeding densities do not always reflect fitness, assessing impacts of a massive natural disturbance should include measuring impacts of changes in vegetation on both reproductive success and predator–prey dynamics.
Exposure to environmental features early in life potentially can influence the kinds of places animals select to live later in life. We examined whether there is evidence that Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii) hatched in an urban environment choose sites with features similar to their natal areas when they nest for the first time. The features we examined were the nest tree species and the level of development surrounding the nest tree. We banded nestling and fledgling Cooper's hawks in Tucson, Arizona, USA, from 1994 to 2004. We then monitored nests in Tucson to identify hawks that had been hatched in the city and eventually secured a breeding site. Percent cover of buildings around first breeding nests was not related to percent cover of buildings around natal nests for either sex. There was some evidence that being hatched in a particular tree species influenced choice of tree species at first breeding sites for males, but the influence was weak. In contrast, tree species in which first-time breeders built their nests, and the sites where the trees were located relative to development, were proportional to what was available in the Tucson metropolitan area. Our data suggest that natal experience played a limited role in nest-site selection by Cooper's hawks in Tucson for the features we examined. If learning occurred, it could have been for the general structure of natal sites. Thus, any small grove of large trees planted in Tucson could be used as a nest site by Cooper's hawks regardless of the level of development surrounding the nest.
Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) broods spend the first several days of life on the ground until poult flight capabilities are attained. This is a critical period of wild turkey life history, with poult survival ranging from 12% to 52%. We measured vegetation in plots used by Rio Grande wild turkey (M. g. intermedia) preflight broods at 4 sites in southwest Kansas and the Texas Panhandle, USA, to determine microhabitat selection for ground roosting and to determine if microhabitat was related to poult survival. Hens selected ground-roost locations with more visual obstruction from multiple observation heights than random sites. Plots surrounding ground roosts had 1) greater visual obstruction; 2) increased tree decay; 3) higher percent grass, shrub, litter, and forb cover; and 4) lower percent bare ground cover than random sites. Grass, shrubs, and downed trees appeared to provide desired cover for ground-roosting broods. Poult survival increased with age of poult, size of brood, and density of shrubs 1–2 m tall. Plots used by broods <10 days old with above average survival contained more visual obstruction and shrubs than plots used by broods 10–16 days old with above average survival, signifying a shift in habitat use by successful broods as poults attain flight abilities. Density of shrubs 1–2 m tall in brood-use areas appears to be important for poult survival to 16 days of age on southern Great Plains rangeland habitats. Ground-level vegetative cover appears to be a significant factor in preflight poult survival. Provisions of ground-level vegetative cover should be considered during wild turkey brooding periods where increased poult survival is desired.
The southeastern portion of the Edwards Plateau of Texas, historically a stronghold of Rio Grande wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia), has seen a decline in turkey numbers since the 1970s. Because adult and juvenile survival are key parameters affecting turkey population dynamics, we used radiotagged individuals to compare Rio Grande wild turkey survival in areas of suspected decline versus stable portions of the Edwards Plateau during 2001–2003. Reproductive period (breeding or nonbreeding) had an impact on survival, but differences in age, sex, or region did not influence survival. Model averaged estimates of monthly survival were 0.97 (SE = 0.005) for nonbreeding periods and 0.96 (SE = 0.007) for breeding periods. Our results indicate juvenile and adult survival in the declining areas was similar to survival in the stable areas of the Edwards Plateau. This suggests causes of the decline might be associated with differences during other life-history stages, such as nest success or poult survival, although we cannot rule out the possibility juvenile or adult survival contributed to the decline in the past. This situation demonstrates why wildlife managers should be cognizant of the implications of initiating long-term monitoring programs after changes in population status occur, rather than initiating them in expectation of such changes.
Adequate cover is a critical component of ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) habitat during the brood-rearing period when chick mortality is high. We assessed habitat use by ruffed grouse during the brood-rearing period by comparing characteristics of tree, shrub, and ground layers at ruffed grouse brood and random locations. We captured and radiomarked 29 females with broods in 2 forest settings of the Réserve faunique de Portneuf, Quebec, Canada. We described grouse habitat using ground surveys and forest maps, and we identified the used habitat characteristics using analysis of variance and logistic regression. Females with broods used mixed and regenerated clearcut stands that were 1.5–7 m tall and 11–20 years old. Compared with random locations, grouse locations had higher lateral obstruction (76% vs. 68%), higher small-stem density (29,085 stems/ha vs. 19,340 stems/ha), and were closer to roads and trails. Percentage of coverage by ground vegetation was not higher at grouse locations as often reported in previous studies. Results from this study will help orient ruffed grouse habitat management on Quebec public land and elsewhere in nordic–temperate mixed hardwood–softwood forests to maintain suitable brood habitat after logging operations. Forest management should promote growth of young mixed stands with high horizontal and vertical cover provided by high small-stem density, which offers protection against aerial and terrestrial predation. Edges such as roadsides are also important in brood habitat as they provide food and cover.
We investigated population structure and genetic diversity for bobcats (Lynx rufus) in Michigan, USA, which are distributed throughout the upper peninsula (UP) and the northern half of the lower peninsula (LP) of Michigan. Specifically, we assessed the influence of natural and artificial barriers to dispersal on the genetic population structure of the bobcat across Michigan, as well as in each peninsula. We used 5 microsatellite markers and the statistical package STRUCTURE to identify populations and assign individuals to their population of origin. STRUCTURE identified one population in each peninsula, indicating that the UP and LP are genetically isolated by the Straits of Mackinac which divide the UP and LP. Despite a greater density of roads in the LP, we found no evidence that they have led to intra-peninsular population structure. Our results suggest that, from a genetic standpoint, management agencies do not need to be concerned about the fragmenting effects of roads when producing management plans for bobcats.
Although lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in North America, some predators continue to exhibit elevated lead burdens, which has been attributed to ingesting metallic lead from other projectiles. Few studies have investigated residual lead fragments in hunted upland animals. Therefore, specific portals for lead entering wildlife food chains remain largely unknown. Prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) are shot for recreation with minimal regulation in western North America. Because recreational shooters mostly use expanding bullets and rarely remove or bury carcasses, shot prairie dogs could make lead accessible to predators and scavengers. To determine whether and to what degree shot prairie dogs carry lead fragments, we analyzed carcasses shot by recreational shooters with 2 bullet types. Bullet type influenced the probability of bullet fragments being retained in carcasses; 87% of prairie dogs shot with expanding bullets contained bullet fragments, whereas 7% of carcasses shot with non-expanding bullets did. The amount of bullet fragments per carcass also differed between bullet types; carcasses shot with expanding bullets contained a mean of 228.4 mg of the lead-containing bullet core and 74.4 mg of the copper-alloy jacket, whereas carcasses shot with non-expanding bullets averaged only 19.8 mg of the core and 23.2 mg of the jacket. Lead fragments in carcasses shot with expanding bullets were small in size; 73% of all lead mass in each carcass was from fragments that weighed <25 mg each, small enough to be easily ingested and absorbed by secondary consumers. The amount of lead in a single prairie dog carcass shot with an expanding bullet is potentially sufficient to acutely poison scavengers or predators. Therefore, shot prairie dogs may provide an important portal for lead entering wildlife food chains and may pose risks to raptors and carnivores. Managers should consider measures, such as using non-expanding or lead-free ammunition, to reduce the likelihood of lead consumption and poisoning in upland wildlife.
Fertility control is currently under development for the control of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), one of New Zealand's most serious vertebrate pests. Despite intensive research into various methods for achieving infertility, including immunocontraception and disrupting endocrine control of reproduction, researchers know little about the potential effects of these methods on the behavior of wild possums. We assessed the effects of surgically imposed sterility, either to block fertilization (tubal ligation) or to disrupt endocrine control of fertility (gonadectomy), by using radiotelemetry on the movement patterns and site fidelity of wild brushtail possums. In addition, we assessed the effect of gonadectomy on the transmission rate of a commonly occurring, directly transmitted pathogen in possums, Leptospira interrogans serovar balcanica (hereafter L. balcanica), to determine the effect of any behavioral changes on possum contact rates. Both tubal ligation and gonadectomy of females did not appear to have any appreciable effect on behavior, with sterilized females having space-use patterns and fidelity to seasonal breeding ranges similar to those of fertile females. However, gonadectomy of male possums resulted in a significant reduction of 42% and 47% in the 95% and 70% isopleth seasonal breeding ranges, respectively. Furthermore, the transmission rate of L. balcanica in gonadectomized male and female possums was reduced by 88% and 63%, respectively, compared with that in fertile male and female possums. Overall, these results suggest that fertility control, either by blocking fertilization (e.g., immunocontraception) or by disrupting endocrine control of reproduction (e.g., gonadotropin-releasing hormone vaccines), is unlikely to have an impact on social organization and behavior of brushtail possums in ways that may compromise the efficacy of fertility control for reducing population density. However, the reduction in the transmission rate of L. balcanica indicates that fertility control that interferes with endocrine control of reproduction is likely to reduce the contact rate between possums. This could have implications for the control of other wildlife diseases requiring direct contact for transmission.
Studies of space use and habitat selection of endangered species are useful for identifying factors that influence fitness of individuals and viability of populations. However, there is a lack of published information regarding these behaviors for the federally threatened Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus). We documented space use and habitat selection for 28 female black bears in 2 subpopulations of the Tensas River Basin population in northeast Louisiana, USA. The Tensas subpopulation inhabits a relatively large (>300-km2) contiguous area of bottomland hardwood forest, whereas the Deltic subpopulation exists mainly in 2 small (<7-km2) forested patches surrounded by an agricultural matrix. Females on Deltic maintained smaller seasonal and annual home ranges than females on Tensas (all P < 0.04), except for females with cubs during spring. On Tensas, females with cubs maintained smaller home ranges than females without cubs during spring (P = 0.01), but we did not detect this difference on Deltic or in other seasons. Females on Tensas and Deltic exhibited differences in habitat selection when establishing home ranges and within home ranges (P < 0.001). Deltic females selected mature bottomland hardwood forests and avoided agricultural habitats at both spatial scales. Tensas females selected a mixture of swamps, mature and regenerating forests, and exhibited variation in selection across scale, season, and reproductive status. We suggest that differences in space use and habitat selection between Tensas and Deltic are at least partially due to habitat differences at the landscape (i.e., amount of forested habitat) and patch (i.e., food availability) scales. Our results contribute to the understanding of factors that influence space use and habitat selection by black bears and provide specific information on habitat types selected by Louisiana black bears to agencies involved in habitat protection and restoration for this threatened subspecies.
Over the last 20 years scaup numbers have declined, and these declines have been greatest in the northern boreal forests of Canada and Alaska where most lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) nest. We studied nest success and duckling survival of lesser scaup over 3 field seasons, 2001–2003, on the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska, USA. Daily survival rate (DSR) of nests on our study area across all 3 years was 0.943 (n = 177 nests, 95% CI: 0.930–0.954), corresponding to a nest success of only 12.3%, considerably lower than published estimates of an average nest success as high as 57% for lesser scaup in the northern boreal forest. With Mayfield logistic regression, we investigated effects on nest survival of year, clutch initiation date, and nesting habitat type (large wetlands >10 ha, small wetlands <10 ha, and wooded creeks). Neither year nor clutch initiation date influenced nest survival; however, the odds of nest success on large wetlands was 49% lower than on wooded creeks (odds ratio = 0.512, 95% CI = 0.286, 0.918). Based on the model that used only habitat type for estimation, DSR on large wetlands was 0.931 (corresponding nest success = 7.6%), DSR on small wetlands was 0.941 (nest success = 11.1%), and DSR on wooded creeks was 0.963 (nest success = 26.2%). To estimate duckling survival, we monitored 10 broods (n = 75 ducklings) over 3 field seasons by radiotagging hens at nest hatch. Most duckling mortality (94%) occurred in the first 10 days after hatch. Average duckling survival during 1–10 days was 0.321 (95% CI: 0.122–0.772), during 11–20 days was 0.996 (95% CI: 0.891–1.040), and during 21–30 days was 0.923 (95% CI: 0.769–1.041). Three of 10 hens moved all or part of their broods overland between nesting and brood-rearing wetlands for distances of 0.3–1.6 km. Our estimates of lesser scaup nest success and duckling survival on the Yukon Flats were among the lowest ever reported for ducks nesting at northern latitudes, even though the study site was in pristine boreal forest. Estimating and comparing scaup demographic rates from different geographic areas can contribute to improved conservation. Given the scarcity of information on scaup nesting in the boreal forest, basic nesting parameters are important to those trying to model scaup population dynamics.
Expanding populations of resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are resulting in increased conflicts with humans. Nonlethal and humane means are needed for managing Canada goose flocks at a variety of sites, including golf courses, industrial parks, government sites, and city parks. Decreased egg production and hatching are side effects of nicarbazin, a veterinary drug used to treat coccidiosis in chickens. Capitalizing on these effects, we developed nicarbazin as a reproductive inhibitor for Canada geese and conducted a field efficacy study. We recruited study sites in 2002 and 2003. Following laboratory testing, we conducted a field efficacy trial of nicarbazin for reducing the hatchability of Canada goose eggs in spring 2004 in Oregon, USA. The study began in February 2004 at 10 sites in Oregon, with 2 control and 3 treated sites on each side of the Cascades. We fed bait daily to resident Canada geese for approximately 6 weeks. We located and monitored nests until hatching or ≥5 days beyond the expected hatching date to determine hatchability. We completed data collection in May 2004. Geese consumed 8,000 kg of bait, with 5,100 kg of OvoControl G® (Innolytics, LLC, Rancho Santa Fe, CA) 2,500-ppm nicarbazin bait consumed among 6 treated sites and 2,900 kg of untreated bait consumed among 4 control sites. We monitored 63 nests at treated sites and 46 nests at control sites to determine hatching success of eggs. There was a 62% reduction in the percentage of nests with 100% hatchability at treated sites as compared to controls. There was a 93% increase in the percentage of nests at treated sites with 0% hatchability as compared to nests with no eggs hatching at control sites. Hatchability from treated sites versus control sites was reduced 36% (F = 5.72, P = 0.0622). We submitted results from this study to support Environmental Protection Agency registration of nicarbazin as a reproductive inhibitor for use in Canada geese. We have shown that treatment of resident Canada geese with OvoControl G 2,500-ppm nicarbazin bait by licensed, trained applicators immediately prior to and during the breeding season can reduce hatchability of eggs laid by treated geese, thereby reducing recruitment of goslings into problem resident Canada goose populations.
We used cohort analysis to reconstruct the female segment of a Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) population from 1979 to 2000 in the western Cascades of Washington, USA. We used reconstructed population estimates and age class representations to analyze relationships between population change and female density, forage availability, and weather influences. We applied stage structured and unstructured modeling approaches and used information-theoretic methods to select the best models. We used habitat covariates to develop predictive functions for fertility and survival parameters in structured models. The best structured and unstructured models were composed of combinations of factors including population density, forage availability, and winter weather. Structured and unstructured models could assist with management of black-tailed deer by providing the ability to predict deer population change given covariate values.
Establishment and spread of infectious diseases are controlled by the frequency of contacts among hosts. Although managers can estimate transmission coefficients from the relationship between disease prevalence and age or time, they may wish to quantify or compare contact rates before a disease is established or while it is at very low prevalence. Our objectives were to quantify direct and indirect contacts rates among white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and to compare these measures of contact rate with simpler measures of joint space use. We deployed Global Positioning System (GPS) collars on 23 deer near Carbondale, Illinois, USA, from 2002 to 2005. We used location data from the GPS collars to measure pairwise rates of direct and indirect contact, based on a range of proximity criteria and time lags, as well as volume of intersection (VI) of kernel utilization distributions. We analyzed contact rates at a given distance criterion and time lag using mixed-model logistic regression. Direct contact rates increased with increasing VI and were higher in autumn–spring than in summer. After accounting for VI, the estimated odds of direct contact during autumn–spring periods were 5.0–22.1-fold greater (depending on the proximity criterion) for pairs of deer in the same social group than for between-group pairs, but for direct contacts during summer the within:between-group odds ratio did not differ significantly from 1. Indirect contact rates also increased with VI, but the effects of both season and pair-type were much smaller than for direct contacts and differed little as the time lag increased from 1–30 days. These results indicate that simple measures of joint space use are insufficient indices of direct contact because group membership can substantially increase contacts at a given level of joint space use. With indirect transmission, however, group membership had a much smaller influence after accounting for VI. Relationships between contact rates and season, VI, and pair-type were generally robust to changes in the proximity criterion defining a contact, and patterns of indirect contacts were affected little by the choice of time lag from 1–30 days. The use of GPS collars provides a framework for testing hypotheses about the form of contact networks among large mammals and comparing potential direct and indirect contact rates across gradients of ecological factors, such as population density or landscape configuration.
Decades of research have produced substantial data on elk (Cervus elaphus) diets in winter, when foraging conditions are most likely to affect population dynamics. Using data from 72 studies conducted in western North America between 1938 and 2002, we collated data on elk diets and environmental variables. We used these data to quantify diet selection by elk and to test whether variation in elk diets is associated with habitat type, winter severity, period of winter, human hunting, and study method. Graminoids (grasses and grass-like plants such as sedges) dominated elk diets and consistently occurred at a higher proportion in the diet than in elk foraging habitats, indicating preference. Forbs commonly made up ≤5% of the diet, with no evidence for preference; we conclude that forb use is largely incidental to grazing for graminoids. Browse was consumed in proportion to its availability, implying that the amount of browse in the diet was primarily determined by habitat use rather than selection. Comparing the diets of elk and sympatric ruminants, elk consistently selected graminoids more strongly than sympatric ruminants with the exception of bison (Bison bison), suggesting that elk are not environmentally forced to adopt the graminoid-biased diet that they normally select. The proportion of open meadows and grasslands on winter ranges was strongly and positively associated with graminoid consumption by elk. The proportion of graminoids in the diet was significantly lower in elk experiencing severe winter conditions or predation risk from human hunting. The period of winter (early, middle, and late) had only small effects on elk diets, as did the method by which the diet was determined. Overall, variation in elk diets is well-explained by a consistent tendency to select graminoids if available, modified by winter habitat type, predation risk, and winter severity, which can constrain habitat selection and access to grazing opportunities. To fully understand variation in foraging behavior, biologists should recognize these broad patterns when interpreting resource selection data. Managers should recognize that inconspicuous behavioral responses to environmental stimuli can alter the diet in ways that probably carry nutritional consequences.
We captured and radiocollared 57 pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) fawns in western South Dakota, USA, during May 2002–2003 and radiotracked them through 15 months of age, by which time all surviving individuals had established a permanent home range. We classified 56% (n = 19) of fawns as dispersers and 44% (n = 15) as residents. Eighty-four percent (n = 16) of dispersers departed natal home ranges in late October and occupied winter home ranges for 102–209 days before dispersing to permanent home ranges during April 2003 and 2004. Dispersal distances from natal ranges to permanent home ranges varied from 6.2–267.0 km. Winter home-range sizes for all individual pronghorns varied from 39.4–509.6 km2. Permanent home-range size for all individuals varied from 15.5–166.1 km2. Mean 95% permanent home-range size differed (P = 0.06) between residents (x̄ = 97.3 ± 15.1 km2) and dispersers (x̄ = 48.6 ± 16.0 km2), but was similar (P = 0.97) among sexes. Mean dispersal distance from natal to permanent home ranges was similar (P = 0.35) for males (x̄ = 54.2 ± 21.0 km) and females (x̄ = 26.3 ± 19.9 km). We suggest that habitat quality (i.e., patchiness) and pronghorn density, in part, stimulated dispersal. We hypothesize that as habitat patch size decreases, home range sizes and distance traveled during predispersal and dispersal movements by pronghorns will increase.
Anecdotal evidence of a pneumonia epizootic among bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis canadensis) in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado, USA, during the mid-1990s prompted park officials to examine the current condition of the herds. Here we present a mark–resight study design to estimate population abundance that, in many circumstances, is a reliable and cost-effective alternative to traditional mark–recapture or to indices of population abundance. We captured 59 adult females and radiocollared them via helicopter net-gunning during winter 2002–2003. From ground resighting surveys conducted May–September, we estimated the total RMNP bighorn population at 389.9 (SE = 34.9, CI = 327.2–464.6) in 2003 and 366.4 (SE = 34.7, CI = 304.4–441.0) in 2004. Previous abundance estimates suggest a park-wide decline has occurred between the late 1980s and the suspected pneumonia epidemic of the mid-1990s. Although the 2 years of data from our study are not enough to predict whether the herds are capable of recovering to previous levels, they provide park officials the tools necessary to make the most informed decisions for future monitoring and management of this fragile species.
We studied seasonal changes in fecal cortisol metabolites (FCM), which have been widely used as indicators of stress, in a population of Pyrenean chamois (Rupicapra pyrenaica pyrenaica) in the Cadí Range of northeastern Spain. We collected fecal samples from 2001 to 2003 in 3 particular locations with different altitudes and male or female presence, and we analyzed them for FCM and fecal nitrogen as an indicator of diet quality. We observed a clear seasonal pattern, with the highest FCM in winter, and we obtained correlations between FCM and monthly mean minimum temperatures and fecal nitrogen. We observed no effects of tourism presence, trophy hunting, or rut season on FCM. Analysis of cortisol metabolites in feces can be a good measure of winter stress in Pyrenean chamois.
We derived a method of estimating the direction and magnitude of cover changes for potentially maximizing wildlife abundance on an area. We illustrate the method with data on cover selection by northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) collected in the Texas Panhandle from 2000 to 2003. We used radiotelemetry to determine use of cover associations, Geographic Information System analysis to determine their availability, and logic related to use-availability analysis to collapse 95% kernel home ranges to usable space. Bobwhites selected mixed-shrub cover consisting of sand plum (Prunus angustifolia) and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), and they avoided or neutrally used 8 other cover associations. However, grass upland and sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) associations occurred in ≥86% of home ranges (n = 96 bobwhites with ≥30 radiolocations). Usable space averaged 54.2% ± 1.72 SE of kernel home ranges. The data indicated that adding about 226 ha of mixed-shrub cover or a structural homologue while simultaneously reducing the quantity of most other cover associations would maximize bobwhite abundance. An area with 30–60% mixed-shrub cover, with the balance in grass upland and sand sagebrush, and with cover dispersed such that no point was >30 m from mixed-shrub cover was hypothetically optimal for bobwhites in our region. Within certain constraints (e.g., financial, social, edaphic), managers can apply this method by manipulating cover types through relevant management practices (e.g., planting, prescribed burning, mechanical removal of vegetation). This method, with minor modification, could also be used to decrease usable space on an area, and thus decrease wildlife densities, should that be the manager's objective.
Assessing the dynamics of wild populations often involves an estimate of the finite rate of population increase (λ) or the instantaneous rate of increase (r). However, a pervasive problem in trend estimation is that many analytical techniques assume independent errors among the observations. To be valid, variance estimates around λ (or r) must account for serial correlation that exists in abundance data. Time series analysis provides a method for estimating population trends and associated variances when serial correlation of errors occurs. We offer an approach and present an example for estimating λ and its associated variance when observations are correlated over time. We present a simplified time series method and variance estimator to account for autocorrelation based on a moving average process. We illustrate the procedure using a spectacled eider (Somateria fischeri) data set of estimated annual abundances from aerial transect surveys conducted from 1957 to 1995. The analytic variance estimator provides a way to plan future studies to reduce uncertainty and bias in estimates of population growth rates. Demographic studies with policy implications or those involving species of conservation concern should especially consider the correlated nature of population trend data.
Eastern red bats (Lasiurus borealis) have been found to overwinter in areas that can experience severe fluctuations in temperature. We examined the red bat's use of winter roosts in southwest Missouri, USA, for 2 winters (2003–2005). We found tree roosts in eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) and hardwoods. Tree roost sites were located on the south side of trees, and we found roost trees on south-facing slopes. Roost sites occurred more frequently in the location with least canopy cover. Bats switched from tree roosts to leaf litter roosts when ambient temperatures approached or fell below freezing. We found habitat characteristics and aspect to be determining factors in the selection of leaf litter roosts. Management of overwintering red bats requires a diverse forest structure, including canopy gaps, stand-density variation, and leaf-bearing trees, including oaks (Quercus spp.).
Overwinter body condition (e.g., fat) provides an index to the health of northern pintail (Anas acuta) populations and may be a factor in the decline of the continental pintail population that has been previously overlooked or understated. We compared body condition between 1984–1985 and 2002–2003, and found that body condition of pintails arriving during early winter in the Playa Lakes Region (PLR) of Texas, USA, has declined by an average of 32%. Body fat levels declined at varying levels with juvenile males showing the largest decline of 41%, followed by adult females with 39%, juvenile females with 30%, and adult males with an overall 18% decline. Declines are likely related to declines in migration and wintering habitat quantity and quality within the PLR and potentially across the Central Flyway. We recommend further acquisition and management of playas to ensure that these valuable habitats remain available to provide critical habitats for migrating and wintering pintails and other waterfowl in the Central Flyway.
My goal was to compare deductive and inductive methods of accumulating reliable knowledge in wildlife science. Under the hypothetico-deductive (H-D) method, observations are used to formulate explanatory or causal hypotheses, which serve as the basis for deductions (predictions) of expected events. Field experiments are designed to determine whether the deductions hold, in which case hypotheses are tentatively accepted or otherwise rejected. The H-D method provides the only way to test research hypotheses, but in field ecology it can lead to ambiguity and error. The method: 1) does not preclude confusion of correlation and cause, 2) might perform deceptively in multiple-cause venues, 3) is algorithmically blind to the fact that different hypotheses can lead to the same deduction, and 4) lacks an impartial means of determining whether a deduction has been observed and, therefore, whether a hypothesis is meritorious. Under the process of induction, the results of a study are presumed to hold generally and taken as knowledge accordingly. Induction is much maligned by logicians and philosophers, and wildlife scientists have built false knowledge inductively. However, wildlife scientists have auxiliary knowledge such as facts of natural history to screen inductions for validity. Both the H-D method and induction have important roles in the accumulation of reliable knowledge in wildlife science.
Recent articles have called for enhanced quantitative proficiency in wildlife students, arguing that such training will increase scientific rigor and produce wildlife researchers and managers who are better able to remedy current problems and to address future challenges in wildlife management. The idea that better, or more rigorous, science is the panacea for controversial natural resource problems is a cavalier and common presumption in many applied professions and one to which wildlife science and management is not immune. However, science and management are distinct processes and although scientific rigor is important, dialogue between the 2 processes is more critical for successful interaction. Integrated training that exposes students to nontraditional coursework and develops essential professional skills, such as planning, consensus-building, and communication, can help produce graduates to bridge the science–management gap and promote the conservation of natural resources. Changes in the structure and coursework of university wildlife departments can help to develop more effective wildlife professionals.
Estimates of population trend for the interior subspecies of band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata fasciata) are not available because no standardized survey method exists for monitoring the interior subspecies. We evaluated 2 potential band-tailed pigeon survey methods (auditory and call-broadcast surveys) from 2002 to 2004 in 5 mountain ranges in southern Arizona, USA, and in mixed-conifer forest throughout the state. Both auditory and call-broadcast surveys produced low numbers of cooing pigeons detected per survey route (x̄ ≤ 0.67) and had relatively high temporal variance in average number of cooing pigeons detected during replicate surveys (CV ≥ 161%). However, compared to auditory surveys, use of call-broadcast increased 1) the percentage of replicate surveys on which ≥1 cooing pigeon was detected by an average of 16%, and 2) the number of cooing pigeons detected per survey route by an average of 29%, with this difference being greatest during the first 45 minutes of the morning survey period. Moreover, probability of detecting a cooing pigeon was 27% greater during call-broadcast (0.80) versus auditory (0.63) surveys. We found that cooing pigeons were most common in mixed-conifer forest in southern Arizona and density of male pigeons in mixed-conifer forest throughout the state averaged 0.004 (SE = 0.001) pigeons/ha. Our results are the first to show that call-broadcast increases the probability of detecting band-tailed pigeons (or any species of Columbidae) during surveys. Call-broadcast surveys may provide a useful method for monitoring populations of the interior subspecies of band-tailed pigeon in areas where other survey methods are inappropriate.
Sustainable use of wildlife is crucial to ensuring persistence of natural resources. We used age-specific survival and breeding data to parameterize a demographic model for a harvested Kazakh saker falcon (Falco cherrug) population by radiotagging juveniles and estimating adult turnover with DNA-fingerprinting during 1993–1997. We gathered similar data during 1990–1998 to model populations of British buzzards (Buteo buteo), and during 1980–1998 to model populations of Swedish goshawks (Accipiter gentilis). Leg-bands and implanted microtransponders provided ways to test for bias and to estimate the harvest of sakers for falconry. Despite an estimated minimum first-year survival of only 23%, the observed productivity of 3.14 young per clutch would sustain a saker population (i.e., λ = 1) with a breeding rate (at laying) of only 0.63 for adults or with a residual juvenile yield of 37% if all adults breed. Higher first-year survival rates for goshawks and buzzards correlated with juvenile yields of up to 71%, but no more than half as many individuals if adults also were harvested. An annual population decline of 40% for sakers in southern Kazakhstan could be explained by observed productivity of only 0.71 young per clutch if there was also an estimated harvest of 55% of adults. This study shows that demographic models such as these can now be built rapidly if nestlings are fitted with reliable and safe radiotags and adult turnover is estimated from genetic analyses or other techniques.
Researchers have obtained mixed results in studies that use prebaiting to enhance small mammal trapping success. In 2004–2005 we tested the effects of prebaiting on small mammal trapping success in an exotic and invasive shrub community, Morrow's honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii), using 4 80 × 120-m live trapping grids at Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, USA. We randomly assigned traps to 1 of 3 trapping methods: we prebaited one-third of the traps 2 nights (n = 3,508 trap-nights), one-third one night (n = 3,492 trap-nights), and one-third had no prebaiting (n = 3,509 trap-nights). We compared small mammal richness, diversity, and relative abundance (no. captures/100 trap-nights) of white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus; n = 462 captures), meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus; n = 89 captures), meadow jumping mice (Zapus hudsonius; n = 221 captures), masked shrews (Sorex cinereus; n = 87 captures), and shorttail shrews (Blarina brevicauda; n = 78 captures) among prebaited traps and non-prebaited traps. On the first day of trapping, as well as all 4 days combined, richness, diversity, and relative abundance for all species were similar among traps that we had prebaited for 2 nights, one night, and zero nights (P = 0.856). Moreover, total number of captures was similar among prebaiting treatments (P = 0.197). These results suggest that prebaiting does not enhance trapping success for small mammals in a landscape dominated by a dense, exotic shrub. We recommend that managers do not employ prebaiting in areas with similar small mammal species composition in an attempt to increase trapping success, as we did not record a difference in trapping success in prebaited traps compared to non-prebaited traps.
Little quantitative information exists about the survey effort necessary to inventory temperate bat species assemblages. We used a bootstrap resampling algorithm to estimate the number of mist net surveys required to capture individuals from 9 species at both study area and site levels using data collected in a forested watershed in northwestern California, USA, during 1996–2000. The mean number of simulated surveys required to capture individual species varied with species' rarity and ranged from 1.5 to 44.9. We retrospectively evaluated strategies to reduce required survey effort by subsampling data from 1996 to 1998 and tested the strategies in the field during 1999 and 2000. Using data from 1996 to 1998, the mean number of simulated surveys required to capture 8 out of 9 species was 26.3, but a 95% probability of capture required >61 surveys. Inventory efficiency, defined as the cumulative proportion of species detected per survey effort, improved for both the study area and individual sites by conducting surveys later in summer. We realized further improvements in study area inventory efficiency by focusing on productive sites. We found that 3 surveys conducted between 1 July and 10 September at each of 4 productive sites in this 10-km2 study area resulted in the capture of 8 species annually. Quantitative estimation of the survey effort required to assess bat species occurrence improves the ability to plan and execute reliable, efficient inventories. Results from our study should be useful for planning inventories in nearby geographical areas and similar habitat types; further, the analytical methods we used to assess effort are broadly applicable to other survey methods and taxa.
We examined the relationship between the production of sites with feces (i.e., latrines) and river otter (Lontra canadensis) abundance to determine whether scat surveys were adequate for monitoring relative population size for species leaving activity signs in a clumped distribution on the landscape. We conducted winter riparian transects to simultaneously monitor otter abundance via snow tracks and latrine sites along the rivers of Kouchibouguac National Park and surrounding area in New Brunswick, Canada. Our data showed that latrine abundance poorly reflected otter abundance for given stretches of rivers because the relationship was nonlinear and reached a plateau. The number of latrine sites was not related to the time period since last snowfall, which indicated that otters repetitively defecated at the same sites. Individual otters and groups did not produce activity signs over larger distances as a function of time, which indicated that they tend to stay in their home ranges in winter. We discuss why scat survey protocols based on determining presence–absence of a species at predetermined search sites may poorly reflect population size, as well as population fluctuations in time. Caution is advised when interpreting data from such surveys for species for which feces or other activity signs surveyed play a role in intraspecific communication and tend to be in a clumped distribution on the landscape.
Researchers have extensively used mark–recapture techniques to obtain information on demographic parameters of wildlife populations. However, researchers have recognized that a number of factors can influence capture probabilities of wildlife species, which in turn can bias mark–recapture estimates of demographic parameters. Tooth extraction, which is a commonly used technique in studies of mesopredator species to obtain precise age estimates and to monitor the use of vaccine baits, is an aspect of animal handling that clearly might affect the recapture probability of individuals. However, the effect that tooth removal has on the individual recapture probabilities of wildlife species is unknown. During 2005, we trapped and marked 91 raccoons (Procyon lotor) in northern Indiana, USA, as part of a mark–recapture study designed specifically to determine if tooth extractions have an effect on recapture probabilities of individuals. We performed tooth extractions on 50% of the raccoons at the time of capture, and we attempted to balance tooth extractions with respect to sex and age of raccoons. We used logistic regression to model the effects of sex, age, and tooth removal on recapture probabilities, and we used Mann–Whitney U-tests to examine the effect of tooth removal on the number of times we recaptured individuals. The probability of recapture differed between sexes but did not differ as a function of tooth removal or among age classes. In addition, we failed to detect any difference in the mean number of times that we recaptured raccoons between the tooth removed and non–tooth-removed groups. Our results suggest that managers can use tooth extractions as an effective management tool without biasing population estimates or compromising other management objectives.
The presence of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle can negatively impact a state's economy and cattle industry. In Michigan, USA, wild white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are a reservoir for reinfecting cattle herds. Although direct TB transmission between deer and cattle is rare, infected deer may contaminate cattle feed. To mitigate this risk, we designed and evaluated a deer-resistant cattle feeder (DRCF) device for deterring deer from feeders. The device delivered negative stimuli to condition deer to avoid cattle feeders. We tested the device by conducting a comparative change experiment at a high-density captive white-tailed deer operation in northeastern lower Michigan using pretreatment and treatment periods and random allocation of DRCF protection to 3 of 6 feeders during the treatment period. We used animal-activated cameras to collect data on deer use of feeders. Deer use was similar at protected and unprotected feeders during the pretreatment period but was lower at protected feeders during the treatment period. Deer-resistant cattle feeders were 100% effective during the first 2 treatment weeks, 94% during the first 5 weeks, but effectiveness then dropped to 61% during the final week. Excluding problems associated with low battery power and infrared sensors, DRCFs were 99% effective at deterring deer. Our results suggest that DRCFs can effectively limit deer use of cattle feed, potentially with minimal impact on feeding behavior of cattle, thus reducing potential transmission of bovine TB through contaminated feed. By employing DRCFs in bovine TB endemic areas, especially at times that deer are food stressed, agencies and producers can practically and economically reduce the potential for bovine TB to be transmitted from deer to cattle.
As a first step in understanding structure and dynamics of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) populations, managers require knowledge of population size. Spotlight counts are widely used to index deer abundance; however, detection probabilities using spotlights have not been formally estimated. Using a closed mark–recapture design, we explored the efficiency of spotlights for detecting deer by operating thermal imagers and spotlights simultaneously. Spotlights detected only 50.6% of the deer detected by thermal imagers. Relative to the thermal imager, spotlights failed to detect 44.2% of deer groups (≥1 deer). Detection probabilities for spotlight observers varied between and within observers, ranging from 0.30 (SE = 0.053) to 0.66 (SE = 0.058). Managers commonly assume that although road counts based on convenience sampling designs are imperfect, observers can gather population-trend information from repeated counts along the same survey route. Our results indicate detection rate varied between and within observers and surveyed transects. If detection probabilities are substantially affected by many variables, and if transect selection is not based on appropriate sampling designs, it may be impractical to correct road spotlight counts for detection probabilities to garner unbiased estimates of population size.
We compared rubble-rousing versus light-touch stream amphibian survey techniques in multiple 1-m plots across 10 streams in southwest Washington, USA. Specifically, we wanted to determine if light-touch surveys provide unbiased estimates of abundance (i.e., provide counts correlated with rubble-rousing counts) and which method would provide more cost-effective presence or absence information. Rubble-rousing, a common technique for surveying stream-associated amphibians in the Pacific Northwest, took 12 times as long as light-touch to apply. Abundance estimates and standard errors for rubble-rousing were consistently higher than those for light-touch for all life stages for the coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei) and Columbia torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton kezeri). Except for eggs, light-touch detected all life stages found during rubble-rousing. For frogs, only some rubble-rousing abundance estimates, mostly involving second-year larvae, were highly correlated with their light-touch counterparts, whereas for salamanders, similar comparisons generated high correlations across most life stages. Correlations between methods were consistently greater for salamanders than for frogs. However the smaller tailed frog sample sizes and the cryptozoic nature of some life stages may have contributed to this pattern. Depending on the degree to which researchers can tolerate false-negative error rates, light-touch may prove less costly than rubble-rousing for detecting species presence. For the cost of obtaining one rubble-rousing sample, many light-touch samples can be used across a range of habitats for detecting species patchily distributed.
Animal ecology research could benefit from the measurement of individual morphological traits. In bovids, male horn size often correlates with annual reproductive success, is sensitive to resource abundance, and could be a predictor of survival. However, live captures are costly, involve some risk of injury or substantial disturbance to the animals, and are impossible in many situations. To remotely measure horn growth of free-ranging Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), I designed an aluminum frame that holds parallel laser pointers and a digital camera. I took digital pictures of ibex horns and calculated horn growth based on the fixed distance between the 2 laser points. This simple and accurate technique could benefit many ecological studies that require linear measurements, such as shoulder height, body length, leg length, or fin length. It could also help measure body features (e.g., fur or skin patterns, scars), increasing the reliability of individual photographic identification.