Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Variations in species occurrence and distribution across the landscape over time provide fundamental information concerning population dynamics. How this relates to habitat characteristics at multiple scales can elucidate the process of habitat selection. I evaluated these processes for a montane fir (Abies) forest specialist, Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli) in Vermont. This species is threatened by a suite of anthropogenic disturbances on its breeding grounds and quantifying the effects of environmental change at the population level for this songbird has not been addressed. The naturally fragmented breeding habitat of varying size, quality, and connectivity warranted a metapopulation approach and a robust occupancy analysis. Detection/non-detection data was collected for Bicknell’s Thrush across 88 sites during the breeding seasons in 2006 and 2007. Local habitat characteristics were measured for each site and landscape-level features were calculated using a predictive habitat model. The six local habitat variables were combined using a principal component analysis. Principal component 1 (PC1) described a gradient of increasing coniferous shrub density and proportion of coniferous dominated forest with decreasing canopy height. The landscape covariate was calculated by dividing patch size by patch isolation creating a continuum of small, isolated patches to large, less isolated patches. Thus each site was characterized by a single local habitat (PC1) and landscape metric. From these data, 67 models considering all combinations of landscape and local habitat scores (univariate, additive and interaction) were evaluated for individual estimates of the following parameters: (1) probability of detection, (2) probability of initial site occupancy, (3) probability of site colonization, and (4) probability of local site extinction. AIC model selection techniques were used to rank the models, which represented ecologically plausible hypotheses that compared the strength of local habitat characteristics to large-scale landscape features. Models within 4 AICc points of the top model were considered plausible. The top eight models were all plausible. Landscape characteristics alone were not significant in driving population dynamics. The relative importance of landscape + local habitat was highest for both probability of initial occupancy and local site extinction. Probability of occupancy increased and extinction decreased with the combination of increased patch size and decreased patch isolation (landscape) and increased coniferous shrub density, proportion of coniferous dominated forest and decreased canopy height (local habitat). Probability of site colonization was driven mainly by local habitat features and increased with increasing habitat quality. These results indicate a complex system with intricate links between landscape and local scales. Preserving large tracts of habitat may not be sufficient in assuring future species persistence, but could minimize local extinction risk. Careful consideration should be given to local habitat features within habitat fragments, particularly to maintain adequate colonization rates. Because important features from both scales are correlated, in intact montane forest patches, landscape-scale attributes alone may serve as a surrogate for identifying quality breeding habitat, assuming processes of natural disturbance can be maintained.
Frey, Sarah, "Metapopulation Dynamics and Multi-Scale Habitat Selection of a Montane Forest Songbird" (2008). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 86.