Dispersal Behavior and Connectivity of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the North Carolina Sandhills Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Trainor, Anne Maura
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography
  • Human activities are degrading natural ecosystems globally, thus eroding biological diversity and reducing wildlife populations. One prominent example is the Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) which is a federally endangered, cooperative breeding species endemic to highly-fragmented longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forests in the southeastern United States. The persistence of P. borealis is dependent upon managing longleaf pine forests to facilitate prospecting and dispersal movements and thus connecting populations. My overall research objective was to interrelate spatial environmental data and animal movement behaviors in order to evaluate P. borealis habitat connectivity. First, I developed a novel method to empirically estimate and validate landscape resistance surfaces using mark-recapture and radio-telemetry data. I then applied this method to determine how prospecting movements were influenced by both environmental and conspecific cues during forays. The detail prospecting and dispersal data was then combined with detailed data on forest structure to estimate habitat connectivity across the landscape. Finally, I evaluate if P. borealis connectivity is positively impacted by private landowners involvement in a voluntary incentive-based agreement. My results illustrated with an empirically-derived resistance surface that P. borealis are influenced by subtle changes in vegetation structure and land-use activities. The resistance surface successfully predicted most of the short-distance dispersal events. In addition, prospecting individuals' are cueing into environmental characteristics between breeding sites and complex social dynamics at potential breeding sites. When the network model was correlated with observed dispersal events, the abrupt transition from highly connected to disconnected territories provides insight into habitat connectivity within and between habitat patches. This approach showed that highly connected territories reside within managed areas of continuous forest but territories on private properties are isolated from managed lands and each other by agriculture or development. However, voluntary incentive-based conservation programs on private land are increasing the connectivity of P. borealis populations by managing and restoring habitat on private property.
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  • In Copyright
  • Moody, Aaron
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2011

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