Building a Predictive Model of Delmarva Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) Occurrence Using Infrared Photomonitors
Morris, Charisa Maria
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Habitat modeling can assist in managing potentially widespread but poorly known biological resources such as the federally endangered Delmarva fox squirrel (DFS; Sciurus niger cinereus). The ability to predict or identify suitable habitat is a necessary component of this species' recovery. Habitat identification is also an important consideration when evaluating impacts of land development on this species distribution, which is limited to the Delmarva Peninsula. The goal of this study was to build a predictive model of DFS occurrence that can be used towards the effective management of this species. I developed 5 a'priori global models to predict DFS occurrence based on literature review, past models, and professional experience. I used infrared photomonitors to document habitat use of Delmarva fox squirrels at 27 of 86 sites in the southern Maryland portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. All data were collected on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland. Preliminary analyses of 27 DFS present (P) and 59 DFS absent (A) sites suggested that DFS use in my study area was significantly (Wilcoxon Mann-Whitney, P < 0.10) correlated with tree stems > 50 cm dbh/ha (Pmean = 16 + 3.8, Amean = 8+ 2.2), tree stems > 40 cm dbh/ha (Pmean = 49 + 8.1, Amean = 33 + 5.5), understory height (Pmean = 11 m + 0.8, Amean = 9 m + 0.5), overstory canopy height (Pmean = 31 m + 0.6, Amean = 28 m + 0.6), percent overstory cover (Pmean = 82 + 3.9, Amean = 73 + 3.1), shrub stems/ha (Pmean = 8068 + 3218, Amean = 11,119 + 2189), and distance from agricultural fields (Pmean = 964 m + 10, Amean = 1308 m + 103). Chi-square analysis indicated a correlation with shrub evenness (observed on 7% of DFS present sites and 21% of DFS absent sites). Using logistic regression and the Information Theoretic approach, I developed 7 model sets (5 a priori and 2 post hoc) to predict the probability of Delmarva fox squirrel habitat use as a function of micro- and macro-habitat characteristics. Of over 200 total model arrays tested, the model that fit the statistical, biological, and pragmatic criteria postulated was a post hoc integrated model: DFS use = percent overstory cover + shrub evenness + overstory canopy height. This model was determined to be the best of its subset (wi = 0.54), had a high percent concordance (>75%), a significant likelihood ratio (P = 0.0015), and the lowest AICc value (98.3) observed. Employing this predictive model of Delmarva fox squirrel occurrence can benefit recovery and consultation processes by facilitating systematic rangewide survey efforts and simplifying site screenings.
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