Scale-dependent resource selection by GPS-tagged California spotted owls in mixed-ownership forests

  • February 15, 2019
  • by Atuo, F.A., Roberts, K.N., Whitmore, SA, Dotters, BP, Raphael, MG, Sawyer, SC, Keane, JJ, Gutiérrez, RJ, Peery, MZ

The relative contribution of private and public forest to the conservation of species in mixed-ownership landscapes has often been contentious because management goals vary among owners. This tension can be exacerbated by a lack of understanding about how wildlife use habitats managed by different landowners and the relative value of habitats in having different structures, configurations, and management histories. To address this knowledge gap and enhance science-based conservation planning among different ownerships, we analyzed habitat selection by 53 GPS-tagged California spotted owls across multiple temporal scales within mixed-ownership landscapes in the Sierra Nevada. At a fine temporal scale, step-selection function analysis of hourly locations collected by GPS tags suggested that foraging spotted owls selected closed-canopy, larger-tree forest (Quadratic Mean Diameter [QMD] ≥ 33 cm, canopy cover ≥ 60%). Point selection function (PSF) analysis based on single nightly locations suggested that spotted owls selected a broader range of forest conditions including selection of forests having intermediate sized trees and intermediate canopy cover (QMD 28–33 cm, canopy cover ≥ 50%), and the strength of selection for these forest conditions increased in the less frequently used areas of home ranges. The PSF also suggested that spotted owls selected areas with relatively high cover type heterogeneity that included a mix of seral stages, except in the core of their home range where they selected relatively spatially homogenous forests characterized by large trees and closed canopy. Spotted owl home ranges increased in size with increasing elevation and cover type heterogeneity, and decreased in size with forest characterized by intermediate-sized trees. Collectively, these results indicate that landscapes having forest patches characterized by either intermediate or large-sized trees, both with high canopy cover, likely constitute the important foraging habitat for California spotted owls in Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forests. However, selection for any one particular cover type was not sufficiently strong for us to infer selection of individual landownership types, in spite of differences in forest conditions among ownerships. Collectively, our findings suggest that privately-owned lands used in our study may harbor more suitable spotted owl foraging habitat than previously recognized. Finally, given the importance of understanding the relationship between landowner management priorities and the resultant pattern of vegetation on lands with different ownerships, the development of forest management strategies relevant for broad-scale conservation of the Sierra Nevada forest will benefit from effective collaboration between forest managers, landowners, and research organizations.