Date of Award
Master of Science
Naturally-functioning riparian ecosystems provide important habitat for wildlife and serve as corridors for individuals to move from one area of suitable habitat to the next. Site-level quality and landscape-level connectivity of wildlife habitat are of critical importance to myriad species across the landscape in southern Illinois. However, multi-scale analyses of habitat suitability and connectivity of riparian corridors are rare in the literature. The first objective of this study evaluated microhabitat quality at 4 streams (3 treatments, 1 control) restored 30 years ago following strip mining for coal in Perry County, Illinois. Microhabitat differences were very minor among restored and control stream sites. Of the 41 variables measured, 14 differed among sites, 4 of which were uncorrelated: canopy cover, overstory hard mast, bare ground, and herbaceous ground cover; thus, restored riparian buffers were comparable to unmined sites, indicating that restoration efforts were successful. The second objective assessed broad-scale habitat connectivity of stream corridors across the Coastal Plain, Shawnee Hills, and Southern Till Plain Natural Divisions in southern Illinois. Landscape metrics were measured from 3,157 ha of riparian buffers utilizing the 31 longest stream segments across these study sites. Of the 39 variables measured, 17 differed among sites, 3 of which were uncorrelated: mean patch size of forested area, area-weighted mean shape index of wetland patches, and the mean nearest neighbor distance between wetland patches. The Shawnee Hills division had the largest mean patch size of forests, Coastal Plain wetlands had the most connectivity via mean nearest neighbor metrics, and Southern Till Plain wetlands were the most fragmented via their area-weighted mean shape indices. These findings can be useful to land managers when preserving or restoring riparian wildlife habitat in southern Illinois and throughout the Midwest.
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