Resource Selection, Home Range and Habitat Associations of the Southern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger niger) in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of Virginia

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Virginia Tech


The southern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger niger) has the northernmost part of its range in Virginia. For the past 100 years, southern fox squirrels have been declining due to habitat fragmentation, cover type conversion, and fire suppression. Decrease in growing season burns, hardwood encroachment and forest mesophication have transformed pine hardwood woodlands and pine (Pinus spp.) savanna habitats that southern fox squirrels prefer to hardwood dominant habitats that eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinenisis) prefer. These habitat changes have the potential to increase competition among the two species. The main objectives of my study were to investigate the general resource needs, occupancy, and home range of southern fox squirrels as well as the impact of resource partitioning and possible competition with eastern gray squirrels in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain of Virginia. I captured, radio collared and tracked four individuals at Big Woods Wildlife Management area and Piney Grove Complex using 95% and 50% kernel density estimate. I found an average male home range 173.49 ha (SE = 25.73, N = 2) and 40.62 ha (SE = 5.87, N = 2) and an average female home range of 28.51 ha (SE = 0.49, N = 2) and 4.71 ha (SE = 0.34, N = 2). I then identified the second and third order habitat selection in which my top models identified selection for pine savanna cover types (β = 2.095, SE = 0.158), increasing number of burns since 2019 (β =1.24, SE = 0.098), and decreased time between burns (β = -0.233, SE = 0.097). I used two-species occupancy modeling which reflected that gray squirrel occupancy increased with increasing time since last prescribed burn. However, southern fox squirrel occupancy, in the absence of gray squirrels, decreased with increasing time since last burn. My informed single-season occupancy model confirmed that southern fox squirrel occupancy decreased with time since the last burn. Presence in the absence of gray squirrels suggests that southern fox squirrels are selecting habitats on BWPGC with respect to both resource needs and competition with gray squirrel. Additionally, my level-of-effort (LOE) analysis indicated that 7 consecutive days of camera trapping without a southern fox squirrel detection would provide 90% confidence of the species' absence in areas burned 2 or more years prior to sampling in southeastern Virginia. Further management for southern fox squirrels in the future should focus on high rotational (short fire return interval) burns in areas of savanna as well as pine-hardwood mixed areas and hardwood-pine savanna ecotones.



Coastal Plain, habitat, home range, occupancy, prescribed burn, resource selection, Southern fox squirrel, Sciurus niger niger, Virginia