Habitat Ecology & Restoration I

Contributed Oral Presentations


Contributed paper sessions will be available on-demand for the duration of the conference, then again at the conclusion of the conference.


Landscape Context Matters When American Woodcock Select Singing Grounds: Results from a Reciprocal Transplant Experiment
Stephen Brenner; William Buffum; Brian Tefft; Scott McWilliams
The multiscale nature of habitat selection during the breeding season for migratory birds means that core-use areas (e.g. breeding territories) are selected based on their local habitat features, but these may also be influenced in some way by features within a larger-scale landscape. We conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment to test the hypothesis that habitat selection and movements of male American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) in core-use areas during the breeding season depend on the perceived quality of the surrounding landscape. We captured second-year male woodcocks (n = 19) at high- or low-likelihood of use landscapes in Rhode Island, USA, affixed each with a radio transmitter, relocated them to the opposite type of landscape, and then determined if they returned to their original site of capture or remained in the landscape to which they were relocated. Birds captured in high-likelihood landscapes and moved to low-likelihood landscapes generally returned to their original high-likelihood landscape (5/7, 71%), but birds captured in low-likelihood landscapes and moved to high-likelihood landscapes rarely returned to their original low-likelihood landscape (1/12, 8%). These results support the hypothesis that woodcock assess their surroundings relatively rapidly and subsequently make critical settlement decisions based on landscape composition. Given that woodcock choice is predicted by the woodcock-specific resource selection function, these results also provide support for the use of this tool to guide forest management for woodcock.
Forest Bird Monitoring to Inform and Evaluate Silvicultural Treatments of Bottomland Hardwood Forests at Little River National Wildlife Refuge
Paige Schmidt; David R. Stewart; Jim Mueller; David Arbour; John Stephens; David Weaver
Little River National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect bottomland hardwood habitats used by migratory birds. Current forest conditions were determined by a baseline timber inventory to develop the Refuge’s Forest Habitat Management Plan (FHMP, 2005). The FHMP implements silvicultural treatments to produce Desired Forest Conditions developed by the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture’s Forest Resource Working Group. The Refuge’s focal bird species require extensive bottomland hardwood forest with structural diversity, large trees, and frequent canopy gaps to maintain understory and midstory vegetation and permit regeneration of light seeded tree species. The species were selected due to their conservation importance, strong habitat associations with forested wetlands, and/or detectability using point count surveys. The FHMP identifies focal species for each forest structure component. In conjunction with FHMP implementation, the Refuge has been conducting standardized bird point counts since 2007. This survey consists of three components: probability of presence during a survey, probability of availability given presence, and probability of detection given availability and presence. We developed an integrated model to separate these three detection components and provide abundance estimates for the available, present, and superpopulation of individuals, but the survey and models performance to estimate FHMP focal species and conditions remains untested. We tested this survey to estimate density of the focal species. We provide results of simulations using data collected on the refuge during 10-years of standardized point counts and recommendations for changes to long-term data collection to ensure forest bird monitoring data can: 1) be used to estimate abundance, density, and trend, 2) determine if bird response is attributable to forest treatments, and 3) if the habitat parameters needed by the focal species are attributable to forest treatments.
Phenology as a Tool for Understanding Habitat Change
Erin E. Posthumus; Staff USA National Phenology Network
Phenology is a key tool for understanding how plants, animals, and landscapes respond to environmental variation and change. A rapidly growing number of federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, land trusts, and others are using phenology tools to inform species management. In this presentation, we will highlight three case studies that demonstrate the myriad applications of phenological information to understand habitat change and enhance decision making. First, we will discuss how the timing of spring onset in North America has changed over the past century across spatial scales relevant to wildlife such as protected areas and migratory flyways, with implications for access to seasonal habitats. Second, we describe how the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN) is expanding on known growing degree-day thresholds to create maps that forecast ecological events important to wildlife such as insect emergence. Third, we describe how partners across southern Arizona are using data collection protocols from the USA-NPN to document changes in nectar sources for the recently de-listed lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae). These resources are being increasingly leveraged, in interdisciplinary collaborations, to understand the phenological changes in wildlife habitat and better predict the vulnerability of species to environmental change. The UA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN), a national-scale monitoring and research initiative, collects, organizes, and delivers phenological data, information, and forecasts to support management and decision-making, to advance the science of phenology, and to promote understanding and appreciation for phenology by a wide range of audiences.
Effects of Management Following Different Techniques to Restore Native Early Successional Plant Communities
Bonner L. Powell; David A. Buehler; Christopher E. Moorman; Craig A. Harper
Early successional plant communities are being restored across the Southeast using planting and natural revegetation, but to maintain an early successional plant community, disturbance is necessary. We evaluated the influence of different management techniques following restoration of early successional plant communities using different establishment methods. We compared plant species richness, diversity, and evenness, coverage of native and non-native plants, and coverage and number of species of native spring-, summer-, and fall-flowering forbs in 6 establishment/management treatments (natural revegetation burned (NRB), natural revegetation disked (NRD), natural revegetation mowed (NRM), planted burned (PLB), planted disked (PLD), planted mowed (PLM)), and tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus) control (CNTRL) fields. We detected fewer species in CNTRL, NRD, and PLD than in NRB, NRM, PLB, and PLM treatment units. Shannon Weiner index and Simpson’s E index values were less (P<0.001) in CNTRL (0.99) than NRB (2.48), NRD (2.02), NRM (2.38), PLB (2.41), PLD (2.03), and PLM (2.35). Coverage of native species was less (P<0.001) in PLD (41.3) and NRD (44.0) than in NRB (91.6), NRM (88.0), PLB (82.5), and PLM (79.1). Coverage and number of summer-flowering forbs was greatest in NRD (8.8, 9.4). Coverage and number of fall-flowering forbs was greatest in NRD (80.1, 14.03). Coverage of spring-flowering forbs was greatest in NRB (5.6). Number of spring-flowering forbs was greatest in NRD (7.7). Our results suggest burning, disking, and mowing are effective in maintaining native early successional plant communities that have been restored by planting or natural revegetation. Furthermore, our data indicate planting native grasses and forbs does not lead to increased native plant coverage or diversity than natural revegetation from the seedbank following tall fescue eradication.
Wildlife Contribute to Plant Community Assembly in Life and Death
David S. Mason; Marcus A. Lashley
Besides influencing plant community diversity by consuming and dispersing plants, all wildlife alter plant communities upon death. Carrion initially kill the existing local plant community, opening up nutrient-rich niche space for plants to colonize (i.e., a cadaver island). Moreover, facultative scavengers may distribute animal-dispersed plants toward carrion. What is less known about plant colonization of cadaver islands, however, is the relative contributions of propagules already in the seed bank compared to seeds arriving after decomposition. We conducted an experiment to determine how carrion affects propagule viability in both the established seed bank and of seeds arriving at the cadaver during decomposition. Because of the extreme microhabitat conditions associated with putrefaction, we predicted that carrion would differentially impact plant functional groups in the seed bank (i.e., seeds with no dormancy, physical dormancy, or physiological dormancy) and that seeds arriving after decomposition would benefit from the nutrient hotspot. We placed twelve species belonging to the three plant functional groups in four carrion deployment sites, each consisting of six carrion plots and a reference plot. Seeds inside mesh packets were placed in the soil and on top of the soil surface both proximal and adjacent to carrion. In reference plots, packets were placed similarly but without carrion present. We recovered seed packets 21 days after carrion deployment and conducted germination tests to determine the proportion of surviving seeds. Carrion decomposition reduced germination of seeds with impermeable seed coats (physical dormancy) least, while viability of seeds placed on the cadaver islands (mimicking seed rain) increased. Our data indicate that carrion affects plant community diversity not only by killing established plants, but also by asymmetrically screening propagules in the seed bank based on functional traits and favoring establishment of seeds arriving from animal dispersal.
Wildlife Responses to the Restoration of the San Antonio River Within the San Antonio Channel Improvement Project, San Antonio, Texas
Danny Allen
In response to a devastating 1946 flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the San Antonio Channel Improvement Project (SACIP) designed to reduce the flood risk to downtown San Antonio, Texas. The construction of the SACIP entailed the straightening and channelization of 31 miles of the San Antonio River and its tributaries and the elimination of the associated floodplain and riparian habitats. Maintenance of the SACIP floodway requires the removal of all re-sprouted woody vegetation and mowing the Bermudagrass-lined portions of the floodway to maximize the conveyance of flood waters. Between 2006 and 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the San Antonio River Authority restored approximately nine miles of the San Antonio River. The foundation of the ecosystem restoration project was the excavation of over four million cubic yards of material from the floodway to provide the flood capacity for the reestablishment of aquatic, native riparian woodland, shrubland, and prairie habitats without decreasing the flood protection offered by the SACIP floodway. The aquatic restoration utilized a natural channel design with the construction of 35 riffle structures to restore the pool/riffle/run complexes in the river creating 21.6 acres of riffle, 68.9 acres of pool, and 320 acres of riparian habitats. The restoration is now 7-15 years old and the fish and wildlife response to the restored habitats has been significant as indicated by a 400% increase in avian species richness identified in annual point count surveys. In addition, Guadalupe bass (Micropterus treculii) have been reestablished and are successfully breeding in the restored river. The presentation will provide an overview of the constructed restoration, lessons learned, and future plans to restore 13 additional miles of tributaries to the San Antonio River.
Effects of Deepwater Horizon Oil on Feather Structure and Thermoregulation in Gulls: Does Rehabilitation Work?
Susan A. Shriner; Katherine E. Horak; Nicole L. Barrett; Jeremy W. Ellis; Emma M. Campbell; Nicholas G. Dannemiller
Impacts of large-scale oil spills on avian species are far-reaching. While media attention often focuses on lethal impacts, sub-lethal effects and the impacts of rehabilitation receive less attention. The objective of our study was to characterize effects of moderate external oiling and subsequent rehabilitation on feather structure and thermoregulation in gulls. We captured 30 wild ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis) and randomly assigned each individual to an experimental group: 1) controls, 2) rehabilitated birds (externally oiled, rehabilitated by washing), or 3) oiled birds (externally oiled, not rehabilitated). We externally oiled birds with weathered MC252 Deepwater Horizon oil (water for controls) and collected feathers and thermography imagery (FLIR) approximately weekly for four weeks to investigate feather structure (quantified using a barbule clumping index) and thermoregulatory ability (characterized by internal body temperature and external surface temperature). Post-oiling feather clumping was significantly higher in oiled and rehabilitated birds compared to controls, but steadily declined over time in both groups. However, feather microstructure in rehabilitated birds was indistinguishable from controls within three weeks of washing whereas the feathers of oiled birds were still significantly clumped a month post oiling. Internal body temperatures didn’t differ in any of the groups, suggesting birds maintain thermoregulatory homeostasis in spite of moderate external oiling. External temperatures for rehabilitated birds didn’t differ from controls within a week of rehabilitation. Overall, rehabilitation procedures were effective and washed birds were in better condition compared to non-rehabilitated, oiled birds. This study provides evidence that the benefits of rehabilitation for moderately oiled birds likely outweigh the costs with regard to feather structure and thermoregulation. While feather preening and time were insufficient to reestablish baseline fine scale feather structure in moderately oiled birds, the significant clumping reduction over time may indicate that rehabilitation of lightly oiled birds may not be necessary and deserves further study.
Using FSI to Improve Deer and Turkey Habitat While Retaining Acorn Production in Coastal Plain Hardwoods
Mark A. Turner; William D. Gulsby; Craig A. Harper
Practices that can increase habitat quality for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are of interest to many managers, given their popularity as game species. Canopy reduction and prescribed fire are two such practices commonly applied to upland pine stands, yet they are rarely applied in hardwoods within the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Currently, managers primarily value hardwood stands for their mast production, as acorns are a readily-used energy source for deer and turkeys in the fall. However, oaks (Quercus spp.) are not the sole tree species in these stands, and many upland oaks are relatively fire-tolerant. Therefore, we evaluated the use of non-commercial forest stand improvement (FSI), followed by the application of prescribed fire, to increase deer forage availability and improve brooding cover for turkeys in upland Coastal Plain hardwoods. Specifically, we treated 4, 8-acre upland hardwood stands in Barbour County, AL with FSI during January-February 2018. We girdled and sprayed trees with limited value to deer and turkeys using triclopyr (Garlon® 3A) in half of each stand and a mixture of triclopyr and imazapyr (Arsenal® AC) in the other half of each stand, reducing canopy coverage by approximately 30%. Then, we applied low-intensity prescribed fire to half of each stand in March 2019. Our treatments resulted in a >500% increase in biomass of deer forage during July, as well as improved brooding cover for turkeys. No cases of nontarget oak mortality occurred within our stands, and 95% of oaks had no cambium damage following fire. Based on these results, managers can use FSI and prescribed fire to substantially improve deer and turkey habitat in Coastal Plain hardwood stands, while maintaining oak mast production.
Is Habitat a Dirty Word? Re-Thinking An Important Concept
Kathy Granillo
The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses over 100 million acres of land. It is the poster child for putting wildlife first; its sole mission is conserving fish, wildlife, and plants and the habitats that support them. How good a job is the Refuge System doing? With a new focus on plants and habitat, brought about in large part by the 1997 Refuge Improvement Act, where and how does the system excel at implementing conservation and where and how are the old paradigms restraining conservation? The Improvement Act requires the Service to “monitor the status and trends of fish, wildlife and plants in each refuge” 5(a)(4)(N). This simple substantive criterion is a binding duty for a key, yet chronically missing, element of adaptive management. This presentation will focus on the paradigms that control current management. I contend that in order to fully contribute to conserving wild things and wild places, the Refuge System needs to shed many of these paradigms and shift to a true integration of managing for wildlife and fish species and plant communities. A key step will be to re-think “wildlife” and “habitat” and will require developing an integrated, cooperative monitoring effort in conjunction with other federal, state and private entities.
A Modular and Multifaceted Approach to Quantifying Landscape Health
Richard A. Stanton Jr.; Thomas W. Bonnot
Landscape health is a multifaceted concept that can be difficult to quantify, creating challenges for integrative conservation planning and decision making. We have developed a landscape health index in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Conservation rooted in structured decision making that 1) names and quantifies the key facets of landscape health, 2) summarizes landscape health as a single number based on a value function, and 3) provides a flexible, modular framework for selecting suitable data and analyses to compute the index. The elements of the value function quantify biotic integrity, landscape condition, social condition, and threat status, which contribute to the landscape health index via a weighting system reflecting the department’s priorities. We have integrated modeling approaches across disciplines to quantify salient indicators of landscape health that include 1) associations between stream nutrient dynamics and land use, 2) community-level measures of metapopulation capacity based on habitat mapping, 3) abundance modeling for multiple wildlife species, and 4) human dimensions research. We provide a worked example of a landscape health index for one of Missouri’s priority watersheds based on data from the department and partner organizations. Our analyses and framework advance conservation practice by identifying 1) key drivers of landscape health, 2) focus areas for restoration, and 3) an approach for selecting among disparate conservation actions based on the common currency of stakeholder value.


Location: Virtual Date: Time: -