Relative importance of social factors, conspecific density, and forest structure on space use by the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker: A new consideration for habitat restoration
Understanding how the interplay between social behaviors and habitat structure influences space use is important for conservation of birds in restored habitat. We integrated fine-grained LiDAR-derived habitat data, spatial distribution of cavity trees, and spatially explicit behavioral observations in a multi-scale model to determine the relative importance of conspecific density, intraspecific interactions, and the distribution of cavities on space use by Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) on 2 sites in South Carolina, USA. We evaluated candidate models using information theoretic methods. Top scale-specific models included effects of conspecific density and number of cavity tree starts within 200 m of Red-cockaded Woodpecker foraging locations, and effects of the number of intraspecific interactions within 400 m of Red-cockaded Woodpecker foraging locations. The top multi-scale model for 22 of 34 Red-cockaded Woodpecker groups included covariates for the number of groups within 200 m of foraging locations and LiDAR-derived habitat with moderate densities of large pines (Pinus spp.) and minimal hardwood overstory. These results indicate distribution of neighboring groups was the most important predictor of space use once a minimal set of structural habitat thresholds was reached, and that placing recruitment clusters as little as 400 m from foraging partitions of neighboring groups may promote establishment of new breeding groups in unoccupied habitat. The presence of neighboring groups likely provides cues to foraging Red-cockaded Woodpeckers that facilitate prospecting prior to juvenile dispersal and, to a lesser extent, indicates high-quality forage resources. Careful consideration of local distribution of neighboring groups in potential habitat may improve managers' ability to increase Red-cockaded Woodpecker density on restored landscapes and mitigate isolation of Red-cockaded Woodpecker groups, a problem that negatively affects fitness across the species' range.