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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Characterizing suitable habitat for the largest remaining population of the threatened Florida scrub-jay Aphelocoma coerulescens

Karl E. Miller*, Colin P. Shea

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Birds that breed in early-successional shrubland habitats are declining throughout North America. The Florida scrub-jay Aphelocoma coerulescens depends on Florida scrub, a shrubland plant community endemic to peninsular Florida, USA. The Florida scrub-jay is nonmigratory, federally listed as threatened, globally listed as Vulnerable, and experiencing ongoing population declines. The largest remaining population occurs in Ocala National Forest (ONF), where the effects of intensive management of scrub for forest product extraction are unknown. During 2011–2014, we conducted the first quantitative evaluation of Florida scrub-jay density and productivity at ONF in relation to the age, size, and connectivity of early-successional habitat patches. Regenerating clearcut stands 3–10 years post-harvest provided suitable habitat conditions for Florida scrub-jays, with the maximum number of family groups and juveniles occurring in stands 6.5 and 7.4 years post-harvest, respectively. Our findings indicate that previous definitions of suitable habitat for the species in ONF (e.g. 0–20, 3–15, 3–12 years post-harvest) are overly broad. We suggest that managers define suitable habitat conservatively given that few stands >10 years post-harvest were occupied by scrub-jays, and annual productivity in those stands was relatively low. Our findings that scrub-jays readily occupied small scrub patches and did not avoid forested edges should be interpreted with caution, and more demographic study is needed to understand survival and dispersal among patches. Managers can maximize Florida scrub-jay populations in ONF by increasing the availability of habitat that is within 3–10 years post-harvest.