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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Sustaining Forests

Habitat and Resource Selection by Wildlife Species of Conservation Concern

[photo:] golden cheeked warbler.  Photo from US FWS.Research Issue

Knowledge of wildlife species habitat or resource needs is a basic requirement for wildlife management.  The Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) has been on the United States Endangered Species List since 1967.  Knowledge of how landscape and forest management affect forest wildlife, like the Indiana bat, will allow resource managers to make more informed management decisions that will aid in the recovery of species.  There is great conservation concern for the cerulean warbler because of range- wide declines in their abundance.  The cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea) primarily inhabits large tracts of mature deciduous forests in bottomlands, upland mesic slopes, and mountains.  Previous studies have found support for habitat- and landscape-scale factors affecting breeding abundances; however, little is known about it distribution and abundance on the southwestern edge of its range, such as in Missouri.

Our Research

Current research is focused on knowledge needed for the conservation of threatened and endangered species or species of concern.  Studies include:

  • Habitat and landscape factors affecting density of cerulean warblers and other forest birds in the Missouri Ozarks
  • Habitat and landscape factors affecting density of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia)
  • Resource selection by foraging Indiana, gray, and red bats (Myotis sodalis, Myotis grisescens, and Lasiurus borealis) during the summer
  • Roost site selection by Indiana, red, and northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis)
  • Multi-scale effects on site occupancy by 8 bat species in the Missouri Ozarks
  • Habitat, landscape, and climate factors affecting bird abundance in the Midwestern United States
  • Resource selection by black ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta)and its relationship to songbird nest predation risk
  • Resource selection by brown-headed nuthatches (Sitta pusilla) in pine savannas and woodlands in Arkansas
  • Development and application of habitat suitability models for eco-regional bird conservation planning


Expected Outcomes

Knowledge of species resource needs will inform management decision, help planners evaluate tradeoffs between management and species objectives, provide information for species recovery efforts, and provide needed information for parameterizing habitat and viability models for large scale assessments and conservation plans. 

Research Results

[photo:] Cerulean warbler.  Photo from US FWS.Habitat and landscape factors affecting cerulean warblers

We surveyed abundance of cerulean warblers along 16 rivers in Missouri and Arkansas and detected a total of 576 singing male cerulean warblers and an average of 4.68 singing males per 5-km river segment.  Local habitat and landscape factors had a strong effect on cerulean warbler abundance.  The abundance of cerulean warblers increased dramatically with increasing bottomland and upland forest within 250 m and all forest within 10 km .  Conservation of cerulean warblers will be most effective if we ensure the appropriate forest type and structure are present in heavily forested landscapes. 

[photo:] Indiana bat on tree.  Photo by Adam Mann. US  FWS photo.Resource selection by Indiana bats

We investigated resource selection by foraging bats during the maternity season by radio-tracking 29 individuals in northern Missouri. Indiana bats selected forest and shrubland over agricultural land that composed > 50% of the study area.  Eighteen bats selected areas with greater canopy closure.  Low-intensity prescribed fire had a positive effect on use for some individuals and did not have a negative effect for any individuals. We suspect individuals selected areas managed by prescribed fire because of reduced understory clutter. Forest management practices that greatly reduce canopy cover may have a negative impact on Indiana bats' use. Maintaining of forest cover in agricultural landscapes is likely critical to persistence of maternity colonies in these landscapes.

Multi-scale effects on site occupancy by bats in the Missouri Ozarks

We surveyed bat occupancy by acoustic detection at 375 sites across the Missouri Ozarks and fit occupancy models for 8 species: big brown bat, eastern red bat, hoary bat, gray bat, little brown bat, northern long-eared bat, evening bat, and ti-colored bat.  Time, ambient temperature, days since last rain, vegetative clutter, and date affected species detection probabilities. Habitat, patch and landscape characteristics affected site occupancy for most species; however, species responded to these landscape components differently. Riparian features, aquatic habitats and bottomland forests were important to most species; each species (even those adapted to open habitats) used landscapes with high percentages of forest. We suggest a general conservation strategy for these species should maintain or restore forested corridors associated with streams and rivers and conserve areas of contiguous forest habitats at the landscape level. 

Selected publications

Jones-Farrand, D.T.; Fearer, T.M.; Thogmartin, W.E.; Thompson, F.R., III.; Nelson, M.D.; Tirpak, J.M.. 2011. Comparison of statistical and theoretical habitat models for conservation planning: the benefit of ensemble prediction. Ecological Applications 21:2269–2282.

Tirpak, J. M.; Jones-Farrand, D. T.; Thompson, F. R., III; Twedt, D. J.  2009.  Multi-scale habitat suitability index models for priority landbirds in the Central Hardwoods and West Gulf Coastal Plain/Ouachitas bird conservation regions.  NRS-GTR-49 Newtown Square, PA: U.S.D.A. Forest Service Northern Research Station. 195 p.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Sybill Amelon, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station Research Wildlife Biologist
  • Frank R. Thompson III, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station Research Wildlife Biologist

Research Partners

  • Matt Gompper, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
  • Joshua J. Millspaugh, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
  • Lisa O’Donnell, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, City of Austin, TX
  • Rebecca Peak, U.S. Army, Fort Hood, TX
  • Jennifer Reidy, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO
  • Kathryn Womack, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

Last Modified: 03/01/2012