Evaluating interactions between space-use sharing and defence under increasing density conditions for the group-territorial Red-cockaded Woodpecker Leuconotopicus borealis
Information about how bird species respond to increasing density conditions through either space‐use sharing or increased territoriality, and how those changes affect fitness, is essential for effective conservation planning. We used a case study of endangered Red‐cockaded Woodpeckers Leuconotopicus borealis (RCW) to address these questions. We documented over 36 000 locations from 44 RCW groups in three density conditions on two sites in South Carolina, USA, between April 2013 and March 2015. The frequency of neighbouring group interactions differed among density conditions and was highest for high‐density groups. RCW home‐ranges and core‐areas were larger under low‐density conditions ( = 88.4 ha, = 21.0 ha) than under medium ( = 68.29 ha, = 16.6 ha) and high‐density ( = 76.3 ha, = 18.6 ha) conditions. Neighbouring RCWs maintained overlapping home‐ranges with nearly exclusive core‐areas across density conditions, but overlap tended to increase as neighbouring group density increased. Under high‐density conditions, home‐range overlap correlated inversely with clutch size (β ± se = −0.19 ± 0.09), nestling production (β ± se = −0.37 ± 0.09) and fledgling production (β ± se = −0.34 ± 0.08). Our results indicate that RCWs dedicate more effort to territorial defence under high‐density conditions, potentially at the expense of greater foraging efficiency and time allocated to reproduction, as evidenced by reduced fitness. Large home‐range overlap indicated limited territoriality farther away from cavity trees, but the existence of exclusive core‐areas suggests that RCW groups defend habitat closer to cavity trees. Thiessen partitions used to allocate critical foraging habitat offered comprehensive habitat protection for RCW but appear flawed for spatially explicit habitat assessments because they do not accurately delineate space used by individual RCW groups.