Systematic review of the influence of foraging habitat on red-cockaded woodpecker reproductive success
Relationships between foraging habitat and reproductive success provide compelling evidence of the contribution of specific vegetative features to foraging habitat quality, a potentially limiting factor for many animal populations. For example, foraging habitat quality likely will gain importance in the recovery of the threatened red-cockaded woodpecker Picoides borealis (RCW) in the USA as immediate nesting constraints are mitigated. Several researchers have characterized resource selection by foraging RCWs, but emerging research linking reproductive success (e.g. clutch size, nestling and fledgling production, and group size) and foraging habitat features has yet to be synthesized. Therefore, we reviewed peer-refereed scientific literature and technical resources (e.g. books, symposia proceedings, and technical reports) that examined RCW foraging ecology, foraging habitat, or demography to evaluate evidence for effects of the key foraging habitat features described in the species' recovery plan on group reproductive success. Fitness-based habitat models suggest foraging habitat with low to intermediate pine Pinus spp. densities, presence of large and old pines, minimal midstory development, and herbaceous groundcover support more productive RCW groups. However, the relationships between some foraging habitat features and RCW reproductive success are not well supported by empirical data. In addition, few regression models account for > 30% of variation in reproductive success, and unstandardized multiple and simple linear regression coefficient estimates typically range from -0.100 to 0.100, suggesting ancillary variables and perhaps indirect mechanisms influence reproductive success. These findings suggest additional research is needed to address uncertainty in relationships between foraging habitat features and RCW reproductive success and in the mechanisms underlying those relationships.