Population viability analysis for red-cockaded woodpeckers using an individual-based model
Walters, J. R.
Crowder, L. B.
Priddy, J. A.
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Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (Picoides borealis) are distributed in the southeastern United States among closed populations whose maximum size is limited. Previous population viability analyses for this species have been confined to examination of threats posed by catastrophes and loss of genetic variability, because of the lack of demographic models that incorporate the extreme spatial constraints on dispersal that characterize this species. We used a spatially explicit, individual-based simulation model to assess the vulnerability of Red-cockaded Woodpecker populations to demographic and environmental stochasticity. Vulnerability to these threats was relatively low, because the presence of a substantial nonbreeding class (i.e., helpers) ameliorated the impact of stochastic variation in mortality and reproduction on the size of the breeding population. Because dispersal of helpers is spatially restricted, this effect was most pronounced when territories were aggregated or at high densities. Populations of 250 and 500 territories were stable regardless of the level of territory aggregation at the densities examined, whereas populations of 25, 49, and 100 territories ranged from rapidly declining to stable, depending on territory density and level of aggregation. Techniques that enable managers to maintain existing territories and create new ones are well established for this species. Thus managers may reasonably expect to maintain even small populations of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers by increasing the density, level of aggregation, and number of territories.