Habitat quality and reproduction of red-cockaded woodpecker groups in Florida
Current foraging habitat guidelines for management of the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis [RCW]) are based on the hypotheses that reproductive success, number of adults per family group, and occupancy of a cluster of cavity trees by a group are related to the amount of foraging habitat available to each group. We tested these hypotheses in a population in the Apalachicola National Forest (ANF) in Florida. Guidelines mandate providing > 6350 pine trees > 25-cm diameter at breast height (dbh) within 800 m of each cluster of cavity trees; occupied clusters we studied had 1,200-13,176 available pines. We detected no association between number of young fledged and the availability of pine trees or degree of habitat fragmentation. We found a weak association between number of young fledged and demographic isolation surrounding cavity tree clusters. No differences were detected in the amount of available foraging habitat or degree of habitat fragmentation surrounding cavity tree clusters occupied by groups of different sizes. However, unoccupied clusters had fewer occupied clusters within 2 km than did occupied clusters. We could not reject the null hypotheses that reproductive attainment and group size were the same for groups with different amounts of available foraging habitat. Our results are consistent with the majority of earlier studies. We suggest that foraging guidelines should not categorically prohibit actions designed to benefit RCW long-term when these actions reduce available foraging habitat below guideline levels in the short-term.