Date of Award
Master of Science
Oak-dominated forest has declined in the eastern United States as shade-tolerant species (e.g., maple [Acer spp.]) replace oaks (Quercus spp.), sparking concern among ecologists regarding species that consume acorns. My goal was to describe how increasing mesophication of oak forests may affect consumers in higher trophic levels. I investigated relationships among forest composition, mast production, small-mammal density, and carnivore occurrence in 8 stands representing 4 forest types (upland oak, mixed-mesophytic, non-oak, and bottomland oak) in southern Illinois. I calculated tree-species richness, basal area, and other measures of forest composition using 3 0.04-ha plots/stand. In June-August 2009 and 2010, I live-trapped small mammals for 16,236 trap-nights with trapping webs to estimate population density of mice (Peromyscus spp.). I collected mast seeds during October-November 2009 and 2010 and calculated average dry biomass (g/m2) for each species and stand. During winter 2009-2011, I photographed carnivores using baited camera traps and combined these data with those from stands used in a concomitant large-scale carnivore survey. I regressed mast biomass, Peromyscus density, Peromyscus survival, and carnivore occurrence on measures of forest composition and hard-mast biomass. Peromyscus summer density was not related to % hard-mast basal area, nor to hard-mast biomass from the previous autumn. Survival of Peromyscus in 2010 displayed a significant positive relationship with hard-mast biomass in 2009 (F1,6 = 7.85, P = 0.04, r2 = 0.61). Logistic regressions of carnivore occurrence on Peromyscus density were not significant. Coyote (Canis latrans) occurrence at my sites and additional sites during January-April 2010 decreased with increasing % hard-mast basal area (x2 = 4.64, df = 1, P = 0.03). Bobcat (Lynx rufus) and gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) occurrence showed no relationship with % hard-mast basal area. Many other studies have demonstrated links of several species to oak forest, but the scale of this study may have been too small to detect effects of mesophication. Alternatively, small-mammal density may be influenced by invertebrate prey abundance or weather conditions. The landscape matrix of oak-hickory forest may also act to homogenize Peromyscus density across my study sites. Longer-term research could help clarify relationships among trophic levels. It is important for managers to consider techniques that may conserve oak forest.
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