Determining Habitat Associations of Virginia and Carolina Northern Flying Squirrels in the Appalachian Mountains from Bioacoustic and Telemetry Surveys
The Virginia northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus) and the Carolina northern flying squirrel (G. s. coloratus) are geographically isolated subspecies of the northern flying squirrel found in montane conifer-northern hardwood forests the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States. Both subspecies were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1985 as endangered, and accordingly, the Virginia northern flying squirrel and the Carolina northern flying squirrel are considered high conservation priorities by state and federal agencies. Although the listing prompted work to determine the broad distribution and habitat associations of both subspecies, numerous data gaps remain, particularly with regard to habitat management and development of efficient monitoring techniques. Regional interest in restoration of red spruce (Picea rubens) forests in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, considered to be the flying squirrels' primary habitat, increases the importance of understanding habitat selection and managers' ability to detect squirrels at multiple spatial and temporal scales.
I compared two novel survey techniques (ultrasonic acoustics and camera trapping) to a traditional technique (live trapping) to determine which method had higher probability of detection (POD) and lower latency to detection (LTD, number of survey nights to initial detection) of northern flying squirrels in the region. Both novel techniques performed better than the traditional techniques with higher POD and lower LTD. I found that ultrasonic acoustics and camera trapping had similar POD, whereas LTD was significantly lower with ultrasonic acoustics versus camera trapping. Additionally, the ability to distinguish between northern flying squirrels and the parapatric southern flying squirrel (G. volans) also is possible with ultrasonic acoustics, but not with camera trapping. This ultimately makes ultrasonic acoustics the most effective and efficient method to obtain detection/non-detection data. To better inform management decisions and activities (i.e., red spruce restoration), this method should be used in conjunction with existing traditional monitoring techniques that provide demographic data such as nest boxes.
I assessed habitat selection of radio-collared Virginia and Carolina northern flying squirrels at multiple spatial scales with use-availability techniques. I analyzed field data from paired telemetry and random points and determined Virginia northern flying squirrels microhabitat (within-stand habitat) selection showed preference for conifer-dominant stands with deep organic horizons, a factor that might be directly linked to food (hypogeal fungi) availability.
Similar to previous studies on the Virginia northern flying squirrel on the landscape- and stand-level using Euclidean distance based analysis, Carolina northern flying squirrels also selectively preferred montane conifer forests in greater proportion than their availability on the landscape. Additionally, Carolina northern flying squirrels did not select for or against northern hardwood forests regardless of availability on the landscape. Habitat preference of both subspecies indicates that red spruce restoration activities may be important for the persistence of Appalachian northern flying squirrels into an uncertain future, as anthropogenic climate change may cause further reduction of the quality and extent of high-elevation montane conifer forests in the region.