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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01223

Red-cockaded woodpecker habitat characteristics associated with partial brood loss in the East Upper Gulf Coastal Plain

Emily J. Martin, Franco Gigliotti, Paige F. B. Ferguson*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Some red-cockaded woodpecker (Dryobates borealis; RCW) populations remain understudied. This is notable because management that incorporates population demographics and site characteristics may benefit RCW recovery. The Oakmulgee Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest (Oakmulgee) has no wiregrass (Aristida stricta), small forest stand sizes, rolling topography, and contains an understudied RCW population. Our goal in the Oakmulgee was to characterize RCW habitat, possibly identify ways in which habitat differed from other regions, and estimate associations between habitat and reproductive output. We found that 70.2% and 92.5% of sampled stands met Recovery Standard thresholds for small and large pine basal area (BA). While 74.6% of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)-dominated stands met the threshold for overstory hardwood canopy composition, 60.0% of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)-dominated stands did not. Few stands met the recommended percentage of herbaceous understory (19.8%) or recommended absence of hardwood midstory. A lower rate of partial brood loss was associated with a greater area of large pines (≥25.4 cm diameter at breast height; DBH), less area of small pines (≥10 cm and <25.4 cm DBH), larger area burned in the dormant season, and higher RCW density. In our models, hardwood overstory and midstory did not influence egg or hatchling production. Hardwoods in the Oakmulgee could contribute to unfavorable habitat, as indicated in the RCW Recovery Plan, as well as relate to variation in habitat across the RCW’s range. Regions of the RCW’s range are understudied, and limited staffing and funding impede advances in understanding and conservation.