Landscape-level investigations of avian species at Fort Benning, Georgia
Jones, Clark David
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The southeastern United States was once dominated by longleaf pine savannas and today only a fraction of this ecosystem (that once covered an estimated 60-90 million acres) remains as scattered, remnant patches primarily found on public lands. Strategies for restoring and maintaining these patches use a variety of habitat management approaches that occur at the ground-level, but less consideration has been given to approaches at a landscape level. Landscape-level processes can be critically important for maintaining metapopulation persistence and for providing context for patterns of species distribution. An understanding of patterns at the landscape level can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies for conservation. I investigate landscape-level patterns of distribution and movement of avian species at Fort Benning, GA using field surveys and experimental translocations, and compare inference about species-habitat relationships derived from multiple distribution modeling approaches. Additionally, I evaluate the use of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) as an umbrella species for other avian species in decline throughout the Southeast. My analyses suggest corridors are a useful tool for increasing habitat connectivity for Bachman's Sparrows (Peucaea aestivalis). Experimental translocations demonstrate that Bachman's Sparrows preferentially use corridors when moving between patches of suitable habitat. I find that popular methods of species distribution modeling generate varying inference for species-habitat relationships which has implications for improving our understanding of species distributions. In my evaluation of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker as an umbrella species, I find that areas closer to breeding clusters of this woodpecker are more likely to have higher densities of other species that share similar habitat characteristics, but that not all species exhibit a strong relationship. Additionally, this relationship varies across space. These findings can be used to inform large-scale conservation strategies to preserve and maintain avian species dependent on longleaf pine savannas in the Southeast.