Date of Award
Master of Science
In the greater Central Hardwood Region, advance regeneration of oak (Quercus spp.) and hickory (Carya spp.) has been in decline for several decades. Facilitated in part by an abrupt change in disturbance regime, coupled with an increase in herbivore density, the existing mid-successional, mast-producing species are being outcompeted by late-successional, mesophytic species. Oak-hickory forests provide keystone resources for a diverse forest wildlife community, and a decline in its dominance will likely impact habitat use and occupancy patterns in the mammal community, but to what extent is unclear. During May-August 2015-2016, I deployed 150 remotely-triggered camera traps in Trail of Tears State Forest (TTSF), Union County, Illinois to investigate single-season, site occupancy patterns and detection probabilities as a function of forest composition and structure for 3 mammals (eastern gray squirrel [Sciurus carolinensis], raccoon [Procyon lotor], and white-tailed deer [Odocoileus virginianus]). I collected microhabitat data at each camera-site and utilized a GIS application to estimate spatial relationships among anthropogenic features and camera-sites. I recorded 404 photographs of 11 endothermic species during 3927 days of survey effort, with white-tailed deer, raccoons, and eastern gray squirrels as the most detected species, respectively. Detection probability of eastern gray squirrels was best explained by the global detection model, indicating no covariate measured explained the variation in detection rates. Raccoon detection probability was best described by a negative relationship with the average temperature recorded during survey period. The best-fitting detection model for white-tailed deer indicated detection probabilities declined throughout the sampling period and across seasons. Eastern gray squirrel site occupancy models received little support, however, ecological land type phase was the most supported model. The best fitting habitat model described a negative relationship between eastern gray squirrel site occupancy probability and coarse woody debris volume. For raccoons, no model with habitat covariates was better fitting than the null model. Raccoon occupancy probability increased with maximum DBH at a site, ground cover, and beech-maple importance values, but decreased with oak-hickory importance values. White-tailed deer occupancy was most positively influenced by ground cover and oak-hickory importance values, but decreased with distance to forest edge, number of understory stems, and beech-maple importance values. My research provides empirical evidence to predictions made regarding the impact of a decline in oak dominance across the Central Hardwood region on a portion of the region’s mammal community. Shifts to late-successional conditions in the Central Hardwood region will likely continue and magnify if forest management approaches continue to minimize the frequency and occurrence of large, anthropogenic disturbances to the forest overstory. A mosaic of forest conditions will be needed to best support a diverse and complete mammal community across the region.
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