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Space use, forays, and habitat selection in California Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis): New insights from high resolution GPS tracking

January 15, 2019

Our current understanding of the relationship between imperiled species and forest management can benefit from global positioning system (GPS) technologies. Fauna of lateseral stage forests have historically been difficult to detect and track in rugged terrain, leading to challenges in movement characterization and conservation. We investigated movement of California Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) using automated GPS loggers affixed to 15 owls in the northern Sierra Nevada, California. We used >17,000 locations from individual owls to characterize homerange size, movement distances, and roosting and foraging habitat selection at four spatio-temporal scales (landscape, home range, foray, nightly) during the breeding season (April–August). Additionally, we assessed owl use of Protected Activity Centers (PACs), which are designated by the U.S.D.A. Forest Service to protect nesting and roosting habitat. Our results corroborated some previous findings about habitat requirements of California Spotted Owls, while also revealing new nuances in space use and habitat selection. Roosting and foraging owls selected stands with high canopy cover and large trees at multiple spatio-temporal scales, with foraging owls showing strongest selection at the largest (landscape) scale investigated. Although owls selected for PACs while foraging and roosting, PACs protected less than one quarter of foraging space use (volume of use) and fewer than half of observed roosts during the breeding season. Female owl home ranges were double the size of male home ranges, and distances travelled from the nest by females were 1.3 times greater than distances travelled by males, with non-breeding females travelling farthest and visiting up to six PACs during a single breeding season. Foraying behavior of this sort has not been documented previously in California Spotted Owls. Our findings support protection of later seral stage forest attributes for roosting and foraging California Spotted Owls. Given their selection for later seral forest attributes, strongest evidence of foraging habitat selection at the landscape scale, long distances travelled by owls and limited habitat protection afforded by PACs, habitat connectivity across the landscape is likely an important component for owl conservation, and distribution of current protected areas may be inadequate for this wide-ranging species.

    Publication Year 2019
    Title Space use, forays, and habitat selection in California Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis): New insights from high resolution GPS tracking
    DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2018.10.017
    Authors R. V. Blakey, R. B. Siegel, Elisabeth B. Webb, Colin P. Dillingham, R.L. Bauer, M. Tracy Johnson, Dylan C. Kesler
    Publication Type Article
    Publication Subtype Journal Article
    Series Title Forest Ecology and Management
    Index ID 70215991
    Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
    USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Atlanta