Habitat selection, food availability, and reproductive success of southwestern willow flycatchers on the South Fork Kern River, California
Copeland, Sylvia Lynn
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The southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) is a federally-endangered neotropical migrant that breeds in the southwestern United States. The population of southwestern willow flycatchers on the South Fork Kern River in California was once thought to be one of the largest E. t. extimus populations. It declined from 38 pairs in 1997 to 12 pairs in 2000. My goals were to examine E. t. extimus habitat selection on the South Fork Kern River, to determine how habitat characteristics and food availability affect E. t. extimus demographics, and to make inferences about possible reasons for the decline. My first objective was to determine southwestern willow flycatcher habitat selection on the Kern on two spatial scales: territory and nest site. Southwestern willow flycathers selected habitat characteristics that appeared to be related to food availability, foraging ecology, or nest cover. Territories within the riparian forest were closer to water and the edge of forest and had fewer cottonwoods than unused areas. Nest sites had denser and more uniform canopy cover and a denser understory than randomly selected sites within territories. My second objective was to determine a relationship between measures of fitness (reproductive success and occupancy frequency) and territory categories (occupied 2 years, occupied 1 year, abandoned). Also, I examined the relationship between indirect measures of fitness, habitat characteristics and food availability, and territory categories. Compared to other territories, territories occupied more frequently had higher reproductive success, higher insect abundance indices, greater habitat heterogeneity, denser understories, and more stems 30-50 cm dbh. All of the habitat characteristics important in habitat selection and habitat quality on the South Fork Kern River were similar to other recent studies on E. t. extimus habitat selection and reproductive success. On the Kern, both suitable and optimal habitat appear to be limited and this limitation appears to be contributing to the population decline. Habitat quality may affect E. t. extimus demographics, particularly when the number of high quality territories in a population is limited as in site-dependent population regulation. Since the amount of suitable habitat is likely to continue to decline across the range of southwestern willow flycatchers, managers should consider manipulating habitat for high quality E. t. extimus habitat to aid conservation of this endangered species.
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