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The Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) is considered the cornerstone of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Effective application of the PTD requires a clear understanding of the doctrine and appropriate behavior by trustees, trust managers, and beneficiaries. Most PTD literature refers generically to the role of the government as the people's trustee, without addressing the differences between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government in the United States or recognizing the distinction between elected and appointed officials and career civil servants. Elected and appointed officials, especially in the legislative branch, have policy-level decision-making authority that makes them trustees of the people's wildlife under the PTD. In contrast, career professionals working for state wildlife agencies (SWA's) have ministerial duties as trust managers. The differences between the roles of trustees and trust managers are important. By focusing on their role as trust managers, while supporting and respecting the role of elected and appointed officials as trustees, SWA professionals can more effectively advance application of the PTD.
Urbanization is one of the most rapidly expanding forms of habitat alteration worldwide. Wildlife differs in their responses to urbanization depending upon species and site-specific factors. We used capture-mark-recapture to examine the abundance, population demographics, growth, and movements of the eastern long-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) in Australia over 1 year in a suburban environment and an adjacent nature reserve during drought. Contrary to expectations, sex ratios, injury incidence, and frequency of juvenile size classes did not differ between turtles in the suburbs and the nature reserve. Moreover, turtles in the suburbs were nearly 3 times more abundant, grew 5 times faster, and had populations comprised of more adults in the larger size classes than nature reserve populations. These findings, together with net movements from the nature reserves into the suburbs, suggest that suburban water bodies were the higher quality habitat, effectively buffering turtles from temporal fluctuations in environmental conditions during drought. However, reserve managers and urban planners need to recognize that suburban water bodies have the potential to attract turtles from nearby reserves during drought, and that even low levels of persistent mortality during these travels across reserve boundaries may have consequences for populations of long-lived vertebrates.
Surgically implanted satellite transmitters have been widely used in studies of avian ecology, yet little is known about their potential impacts on birds. We implanted satellite transmitters with percutaneous antennae (approx. 50 g) in 17 female common eiders (Somateria mollissima) at a breeding colony in Arctic Canada. Among females implanted during incubation, 11 of 12 nests were abandoned within 1 week of being radioed. We observed no differences in the proportion of time that implanted female eiders allocated to basic behaviors. Radioed birds were more likely to pick or preen their abdominal (site of surgical incision) and posterior—dorsal (site of antenna exit) regions than unmarked females, although these behaviors were rare (approx. 0.3% of total time budget). Three of 10 females re-observed had a pronounced limp following surgery, but we observed no walking difficulties among these females in subsequent seasons, and we observed some implanted eiders nesting in subsequent years. Mark—resighting models suggest eiders with transmitters had lower apparent survival the year after implantation (67.0%; 85% CI: 47.8–81.9%) than did color-banded eiders (87.5%, 85% CI: 82.5–91.2%), but there was no model support for a survival difference in subsequent years. We conclude that transmitter implantation in common eiders leads to short-term changes in behavior and a decline in first year survival. We encourage researchers to collect similar data on their study subjects where possible and use it to determine the degree to which data are representative of the greater population.
Estimating range-wide population trends of western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) requires standardized survey protocols that correct for detection bias in environments that support large owl populations. High concentrations of owls exist in irrigated agroecosystems within the southwest United States, yet little is known about the factors that affect detection bias during owl surveys in these systems. I used closed-population capture-recapture models to evaluate 4 factors that could affect the probability of a surveyor detecting an owl activity center (i.e., nest burrow) during visual surveys where owls are the focal object and analyzed the relationship (linear or curvilinear) between specific factors and detection probability. I recorded 1,199 detections of owls from 132 capture-recapture surveys within 12 sites of the Imperial Valley agroecosystem in California, USA between 16 April and 20 May 2006. I also conducted 96 time budget surveys throughout the day and used mixed linear models to evaluate the effect of each factor on probability of an owl activity center being available for detection (i.e., ≥1 owls above ground) during surveys. Model selection results indicated that detection probability was influenced by ambient air temperature interacting with wind speed. Detection probability followed a curvilinear relationship that resembled bell-shaped curve along a temperature gradient, with the maximum detection probability shifting as a function of wind speed. At low temperatures, detection probability declined with increased wind speed, but this relationship was reversed at high temperatures, producing a 3-dimensional pattern in detection probability characterized by a saddle-shaped hyperbolic paraboloid response surface. The probability of an activity center being available for detection declined curvilinearly with increased temperature and explained 51% of the variation in detection probability. Given the broad range of detection probabilities, correcting visual survey counts for detection bias is necessary for comparing population estimates among regions and through time. Survey designs intended to estimate abundance of owls in southwest agroecosystems should incorporate methods to estimate and correct for variation in detection probability that include measurements of ambient temperature and wind speed for use as covariates.
The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis; hereafter RCW) was listed as federally endangered in 1973 after a population decline due primarily to habitat loss. Habitat fragmentation produces isolated populations of RCWs and managers often translocate subadult birds to augment existing populations. Although several studies have examined success of translocating subadults, detailed studies examining translocations of adults have been limited. We evaluated the feasibility and success of using adult RCWs for translocation and augmentation of existing populations in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana, 2006–2009. We translocated 41 primarily adult RCWs, consisting of 12 potential breeding groups (PBGs) and 5 single bird groups to suitable habitat at the Morehouse Parish Conservation Area (MPCA). Fifty-nine percent of translocated RCWs remained on the MPCA and 45% became breeders. Thirty-four percent of translocated RCWs were breeding after being on the MPCA for 2 breeding seasons, suggesting that translocated adult RCWs can augment the breeding population within 2 years of translocation. Fledglings contributed by translocated RCWs ranged from 11% to 30% of the total fledglings on the MPCA. There were 5 PBGs established on the MPCA from translocated RCWs and 20% of the fledglings had at least 1 translocated parent. Success rates for translocation of adults in our study were lower than previous studies where subadults were used. However, previous research suggested that demographically isolated groups have a high risk of abandonment and extirpation, and thus do not contribute to the recovery of the species. The success rates we observed suggest that translocating adult groups may be a useful tool in RCW recovery, and hence should be considered by managers when demographically isolated groups occur.
Piñon—juniper (Pinus spp.—Juniperus spp.) woodlands are common throughout western North America, yet relatively little is known about the habitat use and requirements for many members of its avian community. During summer 2005–2007, we assessed avian nesting substrates within piñon (Pinus edulis)— juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) woodlands in northwestern New Mexico. Of all nests in live trees, 86% were in junipers. The selection of juniper as a nest tree was significantly higher than expected from the region's piñon—juniper ratio (1:1.06) for the community as a whole, for both open cup and cavity nesting species, and for 8 species (of which 6 are piñon—juniper obligate or semiñobligate species). Nest survival, however, was not higher in juniper than in piñon for the nesting community as a whole or for chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina), the single species that was well represented nesting in piñon. The high use of juniper as a nesting substrate differs from previous studies, which have suggested that a presence of piñon is among the most important habitat features for many piñon—juniper species. Because of their importance to nesting birds, managers should avoid preferential thinning of junipers within piñon—juniper woodlands.
Growing vulture populations represent increasing hazards to civil and military aircraft. To assess vulture flight behavior and activity patterns at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, South Carolina, we equipped 11 black vultures (Coragyps atratus) and 11 turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) with solar-powered Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite transmitters during a 2-year study (1 Oct 2006–30 Sep 2008). Turkey vultures had larger seasonal home ranges than did black vultures, and 2 turkey vultures made round-trips to Florida. Black vultures consistently spent less time in flight (8.4%) than did turkey vultures (18.9%), and black vultures flew at higher altitudes than did turkey vultures in all seasons except summer when altitudinal distributions (above ground level) did not differ. Although we recorded maximum altitudes of 1,578 m for black vultures and 1,378 for turkey vultures, most flights were low altitude. A matrix of vulture flight altitude versus time of day revealed that >60% of vulture flight activity occurred from 4 hr to 9 hr after sunrise at altitudes below 200 m. Continuation of aggressive harassment coupled with flexible training schedules to avoid times and altitudes of high vulture activity will decrease hazards to aircraft posed by these birds.
Variation in life history and demography across a species' range informs researchers about regional adaptations and affects whether managers can borrow information from other populations in decision-making. The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a long-lived game species whose continued persistence depends on management of harvest and removal of habituated bears that come into conflict with humans. Understanding the demography of black bears guides efforts at management and conservation, yet detailed knowledge of many populations is typically lacking. I performed a hierarchical Bayesian meta-analysis of black bear demographic studies across the geographic range of the species to explore how vital rates vary across the range, what information they give us about population growth, and whether managers can justify borrowing information from other studies to inform management decisions. Cub, yearling, and adult survival and fecundity varied between eastern and western North America, whereas subadult survival did not show geographic structuring. Adult survival and fecundity appeared to trade off, with higher survival in the western portions of bears' range and higher fecundity in the east. Although adult survival had the highest elasticity, differences in reproduction drove differences in population growth rate. Mean population growth rate was higher in the east (0.99; 95% credible interval [CrI]: 0.96, 1.03) than the west (0.97; 95%CrI: 0.93, 1.01). Despite declining trends in the west, 34% of the distribution of population growth rate was >1, compared to 55% in the east. Further work needs to be done to address the cause of the apparent trade-off between adult survival and fecundity and explore how the estimated growth rates are likely to affect population status of black bears. Because population growth rates are close to 1 and small deviations could impact whether a population is considered increasing or decreasing, managers need to employ caution in borrowing vital rates from other populations.
In mountainous areas with sufficient snowfall, avalanche chutes are an important component of grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) habitat. Therefore, regional land-use plans have recommended retaining adjacent forest buffers to maintain security and thus reduce potential impacts of clearcut forest harvesting. Our objective was to determine if forest buffers affected selection of avalanche chutes by grizzly bears, while accounting for factors such as vegetation composition and other physical attributes. We used radio-location data from 61 grizzly bears collected between 1994 and 2000 in southern British Columbia, mapped a sample of avalanche chutes (1,045), and quantified the amount of forb, shrub, tree, and non-vegetated cover within each chute. We also measured forested buffer width on each side of the chute, solar radiation, chute size, chute frequency (no. of chutes/km), and the area of clearcut logging adjacent to chutes. Each avalanche chute was the sample unit and the number of grizzly bear radiolocations was the dependent variable. We found that natural biophysical attributes were the strongest factors predicting the level of avalanche chute use by bears. Frequency of large chutes (>100 m wide), chute area, forb content, and solar radiation all positively affected use by bears. Larger avalanche chutes had a higher proportion of forb cover than smaller chutes, and more of these large chutes per unit area provided increased forage opportunities. Based on multivariate analyses, forested buffer width or the amount of clearcut logging were not strong factors predicting the level of use. However, a post hoc univariate analysis revealed that clearcut logging reduced the amount of bear use of the best avalanche chutes (large and abundant chutes). Furthermore, because a portion of our study area contained logging but no vehicle traffic, we concluded that it was the removal of tree cover, rather than displacement by vehicles, that caused the observed pattern. Although our multivariate models did not perform well using independent validation in a different geographic area, 4 factors were consistently important (large and abundant chutes, forb content, with a negative but weaker influence of clearcutting), suggesting broad applicability of these factors in mountainous ecosystems.
We investigated the role of water features as focal attractors for gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), coyotes (Canis latrans), and bobcats (Felis rufus) in west Texas to determine if they were foci for interspecific interaction. Mixed effects models indicated that species partitioned use of water features spatially and temporally. Linear models indicated factors influencing relative activity at water features varied by species. For coyotes and bobcats, the water availability model, containing days since last rainfall and nearest-neighbor distance to water was best supported by the data, with relative activity increasing with time between rainfall and distance between waters. For gray foxes, the best approximating model indicated that relative activity was inversely correlated to coyote and bobcat activity indices, and positively correlated to topographical complexity. Encounters between carnivore species were low, with most occurring between coyotes and gray foxes, followed by coyotes and bobcats, and bobcats and gray foxes. These findings suggest a behavioral-environmental mechanism that may function to modulate resource partitioning by carnivores in the arid West.
Optimal collection and preservation protocols for fecal DNA genotyping are not firmly established. We evaluated 3 factors that influence microsatellite genotyping success of fecal DNA extracted from coyote (Canis latrans) scats: 1) age of scat, 2) preservative, and 3) diet content. We quantified genotyping success by comparing rates of allelic dropout, false alleles, and failed amplifications among consensus genotypes. We used a panel of 6 microsatellite loci to genotype 20 scat samples, each of which was subjected to 3 age (1 day, 5 days, and 10 days post-deposition) and 3 preservation (DET buffer, 95% ethanol [EtOH], and lysis buffer) treatments. Both sample age and storage buffer had a significant effect on success and reliability. Ethanol and DET buffer preserved fecal samples with similar efficiency, and both were superior to lysis buffer. Our analysis of DNA degradation rates revealed that samples collected as early as 5 days of age yielded DNA that was highly degraded relative to samples collected on day 1. We tested the influence of dietary remains on microsatellite genotyping by using scat samples consisting predominantly of insect prey (n = 5), mammalian prey (n = 9), or the remains of juniper (Juniperus spp.) berries (n = 6) and compared EtOH and DET buffer preservation efficacy. We observed a significant interaction effect between storage buffer and diet for the probability of a false allele in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), suggesting that the optimal preservation technique depended on the food remains comprising the scat. Scats comprised of juniper berry remains were more reliably genotyped when preserved in DET than EtOH. Mammalian preybased scats were more reliable when stored in EtOH than DET buffer. Insect-predominant scats were preserved in EtOH and DET buffer with similar efficiency. Although accurate and reliable results can be obtained from scats collected at ≥5 days of age, we suggest sampling design to include collection of scats <5 days of age to minimize field and laboratory expenses. We suggest EtOH preservation for scats of obligate carnivores and of facultative carnivores with a diet consisting primarily of mammals. We suggest DET buffer preservation for animals with a diet consisting of plant-derived foods. Lysis buffer protocols that we employed should not be used for fecal DNA preservation.
Across much of North America, river otter (Lontra canadensis) populations were extirpated or greatly reduced by the early 20th century. More recently, reintroductions have resulted in restored populations and the recommencement of managed trapping. Perhaps the best example of these river otter reintroductions occurred in Missouri, regarded as one of the most successful carnivore recovery programs in history. However, abundance estimates for river otter populations are difficult to obtain and often contentious when used to underpin management activities. We assessed the value of latrine site monitoring as a mechanism for quantifying river otter abundance. Analyses of fecal DNA to identify individual animals may result in an improved population estimate and have been used for a variety of mammal species. We optimized laboratory protocols, redesigned existing microsatellite primers, and calculated genotyping error rates to enhance genotyping success for a large quantity of river otter scat samples. We also developed a method for molecular sexing. We then extracted DNA from 1,421 scat samples and anal sac secretions (anal jelly) collected during latrine site counts along 22–34-km stretches representing 8–77% of 8 rivers in southern Missouri in 2009. Error rates were low for the redesigned microsatellites. We obtained genotypes at 7–10 microsatellite loci for 24% of samples, observing highest success for anal jelly samples (71%) and lowest for fresh samples (collected within 1 day of defecation). We identified 63 otters (41 M, 22 F) in the 8 rivers, ranging from 2 to 14 otters per river. Analyses using program CAPWIRE resulted in population estimates similar to the minimum genotyping estimate. Density estimates averaged 0.24 otters/km. We used linear regression to develop and contrast models predicting population size based on latrine site and scat count indices, which are easily collected in the field. Population size was best predicted by a combination of scats per latrine and latrines per kilometer. Our results provide methodological approaches to guide wildlife managers seeking to initiate similar river otter fecal genotyping studies, as well as to estimate and monitor river otter population sizes.
Wildlife communities are being altered by rapid environmental change including habitat loss and fragmentation, urbanization, and spread of invasive species. To predict consequences of these anthropogenic changes to landscapes, it is necessary to identify not only species that are negatively affected, but also species that are unaffected or even thrive. We used occupancy modeling to examine the spatial distribution of muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) in riparian habitat within an agricultural region of east-central Illinois from 2007 to 2008. We examined whether site occupancy was related to local habitat conditions and anthropogenic landscape alterations including urbanization and dominance of invasive reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). We sampled 90 study sites (200-m stream segments) for occupancy by muskrats based on presence of tracks, scat, and feeding sign. Per-survey detection probability was 0.79 (SE = 0.04) in 2007 and 0.76 (SE = 0.04) in 2008. Detection was related positively to Julian date and negatively to abundance of woody debris and emergent rocks. Site occupancy by muskrats was 0.59 (SE = 0.09) in 2007 and 0.69 (SE = 0.06) in 2008, a year with above-average precipitation. Occupancy was related positively to urban land cover surrounding sites, which could reflect higher baseflows and reduced risk from predation and trapping in urban areas. Occupancy was unrelated to site dominance by invasive reed canary grass, but muskrats occurred more often at larger, deeper streams and those with greater bank heights and less sandy bank soils. Turnover between years was driven by stream size and water availability. Muskrats exhibited tolerance to key aspects of environmental change, and muskrats might even be urban adapters when occupying riparian habitat that remains adequately connected in urbanizing landscapes.
Tree cavities are used as shelter and breeding nests by numerous avian and mammalian species. In cold environments, tree cavities are often proposed as the best winter nest choice because of the superior protection they offer from precipitation, wind, cold temperatures, and predators. As such, they represent a critical resource, which has the potential to limit population size of non-excavating species. We assessed factors affecting site occupancy in the boreal forest by northern flying squirrels, a secondary user of tree cavities, and to identify which nest type is preferred during the colder days of the autumn—winter period. We trapped flying squirrels twice in 59 aspen-dominated stands in the autumn period using low- (1.5 m above ground-level) and high-mounted (4 m) traps to determine site occupancy. A total of 85 individuals were captured on 2,880 trap-nights. During the winter period, we radio-tracked 26 individuals to 87 diurnal nests in 220 locations. None of the habitat variables considered (cavity availability, woody debris, and lateral cover) explained site occupancy. Detectability decreased with precipitation, and was lower using high traps than low traps. Both females and males used tree cavities (26%), external nests (39%), and ground nests (35%). In cold weather, females preferred ground nests, whereas males preferred external nests. Our results do not support the hypothesis that tree cavities represent a limiting factor to northern flying squirrels in cold environments. Instead, this species seems to be a generalist and is opportunistic, using a variety of nest types. Nevertheless, practices ensuring the persistence of large diameter live cavity trees, providing better insulative properties, are likely to increase the relative use of tree cavities as nest sites by northern flying squirrels.
We examined a case study where a successful wildlife-friendly model for intensively managed hayland was developed from field data and implemented locally as policy by a federal agency. Farmers were ensured a first hay-harvest with high protein content; after a 65-day delay (compared to the normal 35–40-day cutting cycle) farmers took a second harvest of greater quantity but decreased quality. Farmers were paid $247–333/ha in 2008–2010 to offset costs associated with the decreased nutritional content caused by the approximately 25-day second harvest delay. Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) reproductive rates improved from 0.0 to 2.8 fledglings per female per year. Creation and implementation of this policy required communication among scientists, federal agricultural agencies, farmers, and state and federal fish and wildlife departments. Data collection, analyses, and communication processes served as an effective global model for practitioners to apply to other agricultural products and taxa.
We assessed the feasibility of marking ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. We trapped 27 hummingbirds at feeding stations on a 2.0-ha study site. We subcutaneously implanted each hummingbird with a 0.067-g RFID tag and released it at the capture site. We deployed RFID transceiver systems at 5 feeding stations and electronically monitored tagged hummingbird activity continuously on the study site through 3 summers. Post-release relocation rate exceeded expectations based on previous leg band recovery data, and bird activity data acquisition was consistent and reliable and required minimum labor.
Nests provide a place for individuals to rest, raise young, avoid predators, and escape inclement weather; consequently, knowledge of habitat characteristics important to nest placement is critical for managing species of conservation concern. Arizona gray squirrels (Sciurus arizonensis) are endemic to mountains of southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. We investigated factors influencing nest-site selection at 4 spatial scales (forest-type, nest-site, nest-tree, and within-canopy placement) to provide ecological information and management recommendations for this sensitive species. Nest densities were 2.6 times higher in riparian than pine-oak woodlands. Nest sites had more large trees, snags, logs, and canopy cover and had lower slope. Arizona gray squirrels selected tall trees with more interlocking trees and tended to place nests adjacent to the main trunk. Regardless of scale, Arizona gray squirrels seemed to select nesting areas for their ability to provide protection from predators and the elements as well as access to food. Consequently, maintaining large trees with closed canopies and downed logs should be considered when determining land management plans.