Research Projects

Effects of Forest Management  on Wildlife Populations

Ecology and Management of Stream Corridors

Endangered/Declining Populations

Landscape Ecology

Other Projects


Mapping the distribution of longleaf ecosystems for herpetofauna conservation

Funding Source:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Principal Investigator:    James B. Grand

Co-principal Investigator:  Mark MacKenzie (Auburn University)

Research Associate: Kevin Kleiner

Duration:  August 2007 – August 2010

Over the last two centuries, the longleaf pine ecosystem has been dramatically altered by logging, replanting with other pine species, and fire suppression.  Current estimates, suggest that longleaf occupies 5% of its pre-European settlement extent.  This reduction in habitat has affected numerous birds, reptiles, and amphibians.  The best known example of this is the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), a federally endangered species that inhabits old growth longleaf pine woodlands.  The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) and the black pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi) are also longleaf ecosystem inhabitants of increasing concern.  Successful management of these animals requires knowledge of the current distribution of the longleaf pine ecosystem. 
Currently, the course scale spatial distribution of longleaf pine can be obtained from the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA, Prasad and Iverson 2003). Additionally in 2005, John Hogland, a graduate student at Auburn University working with the Alabama Gap Analysis Project, created a fine-grain probability distribution of longleaf pine ecosystems (Hogland 2005).  Currently, this is the only large extent, fine grain map of the current distribution of the longleaf pine ecosystem.  This goal of this project is to evaluate the accuracy of the Hogland’s Map and if necessary explore new approaches to for large-scale mapping of longleaf pine using remotely sensed data.  Recently, the objectives of this project were modified to assess the use of IKONOS and SPOT imagery as a tool for mapping longleaf pine systems and estimate the relationship between gopher tortoise burrow density and the probability of stand type on the DeSoto National Forest.
Status – An assessment of Hogland’s model has been completed and a more accurate model is required for herpetofauna conservation.  IKONOS and SPOT imagery were acquired for the study areas.  Stand maps based on textural analysis were created to provide an appropriate sampling framework.  Field work to collect information on stand characteristics and use by Gopher Tortoises is ongoing.


Balancing game and non-game management objectives on the J.D. Martin Skyline Wildlife Management Area (new)

Funding Source:  Cooperative Research Units and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Principal Investigator: James B.  Grand

Co-investigators:  Elise R. Irwin , Frank Allen (ADCNR, Wildlife Section) , Andrew Nix (ADCNR, Wildlife Section), Jim Schrenkel (ADCNR, Wildlife Section), Eric Soehren (ADCNR Heritage Section), Nick Sharp (Lands Division).

Research Associate: Amy L. Silvano

Duration:  June 2009 – August 2010

J.D. Martin Skyline Wildlife Management Area (Skyline) occupies approximately 163 km2 in Jackson County, Alabama and was the study site for a recently completed investigation of terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity. This project will use structured decision making tools to develop management recommendations for Skyline that provide an optimal balance between management for game and non-game wildlife, recreational uses, “Natural areas,” and serve as a model for developing similar recommendations for other lands managed by Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Three fundamental objectives were identified by a the team of investigators based on the mandates of the land owners and managing agencies. These objectives include maintaining or restoring ecosystem function, maximizing the quality and quantity of habitat for hunted species, and maximizing outdoor recreation opportunities. Sub-objectives identified within the fundamental objectives include maximizing use by priority species identified in the Alabama’s comprehensive state wildlife conservation strategy, maximizing early successional habitat, conserving and restoring natural areas, and conserving and restoring aquatic systems, maximizing hunting and non-hunting recreational opportunities.  Management alternatives that include uneven-aged forest management, creation and maintenance of early successional habitats, and trail establishment are under consideration.
Status – The investigators attended a week-long workshop on structured decision making and rapid prototyping at the USFWS National Conservation Training Center at Shepherdstown, West Virginia in August 2009.  At the workshop, the team received instruction and coaching while developing the essential elements for structuring and analyzing the problem.  Several prototype Bayesian belief and decision networks have been developed.  We are currently analyzing field and expert-opinion data to develop probabilistic models for the effects of the management alternatives on the criteria that will be used to evaluate their effectiveness at meeting the fundamental objectives for Skyline.  The team is scheduled to meet again in March to evaluate the behavior of the models.


Ecological assessment of habitats occupied by breeding birds at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama

Funding Source:  Department of Defense

Principal Investigator:  Troy Best (Auburn University)

Graduate Students:  Lisa A. McWilliams, Charles A. Kilgore, Brian L. Ortman

Undergraduate Students:  Rebecca Roper, Francisco Cartaya

Duration:  April 2007 – December 2010

The state of Alabama has one of the richest faunal biodiversities in the United States (Mirarchi 2004).  There are 420 species of birds comprising the official American Ornithological Society state list (Mirarchi 2004).  This is almost half the total species recognized for the continental United States by the American Birding Association. 
Redstone Arsenal encompasses a variety of habitats within its 38,248 secured acres.  It contains extensive wetland areas associated with the Tennessee River, several local springs, woodlands, and fields.  The varied habitats attract a large percentage (~290 species) of Alabama’s avifauna either as residents, migrants, or rare visitors (Porter 2001).  The area’s variable water levels of ponds, sinks, and cypress swamps, much of which is maintained by the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, attract many winter waterfowl, herons, egrets, and shorebirds (Porter 2001).  The Redstone Arsenal area also attracts many raptors and passerines of both woodland and field species.  
Twenty-eight species of birds are of special concern in Alabama.  Many species of these birds of special concern may occur in the Redstone Arsenal area of the Tennessee Valley region.  Alabama provides critical breeding, wintering, or migratory habitats necessary for the overall success of these species. 
Considering the need for information on avian diversity and ecological associations in the region, an assessment of species present, distribution, breeding activity, habitats occupied, etc., is highly desirable.  These data would be useful in developing management plans for the Redstone Arsenal, and would provide baseline data for comparisons and future research.  This study will be a significant contribution to overall assessment of presence, distribution, breeding activities, and habitat associations of avian species of special concern in Alabama.
Status – Preliminary data on occurrence of birds at Redstone Arsenal were gathered during 2006 and 2007.  These data formed the basis for a preliminary report submitted to Redstone Arsenal in September 2007.  During January-August 2008 and January-July 2009, field work was conducted at Redstone Arsenal to assess species present, distribution on the facility, breeding activity, and habitats occupied.  During January-September 2010, remaining field work will be completed.  The final report will be submitted by 31 December 2010.



Relations between occupancy rates, fish health and water quality parameters for fishes inhabiting Wheeler NWR  (completed)

Funding Source:  U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Principal Investigator:    Elise Irwin

Research Associate: Kathryn Kennedy

Duration:  August 2007 – December 2008

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR) located in North Alabama adjacent to Wheeler Reservoir on the Tennessee River encompasses 35,000 acres, and includes several satellite Refuges.  During recent Biological Review of WNWR, recommendations were made to complete an assessment of occupancy rates and overall fish health in relation to water quality for nongame fishes on refuge lands.  In addition to Wheeler Reservoir, streams that drain to the reservoir are located on refuge lands and current information is lacking regarding fish populations and aquatic species health in these systems.  It is hypothesized that water quality is compromised in several water bodies on the Refuge, therefore warranting a quantitative assessment of how water quality parameters may be affecting both fish occupancy rates and overall fish health.  The main objective of this study was to estimate species occupancy rates and health status of non-game fishes within the tributaries of Wheeler NWR, and to compare these data to current patterns of land use. 
Status - Seven watersheds were surveyed and twenty-seven species of fish from eight families were captured and identified.  Estimates of detection and occupancy for species and disease (of bluegill) were calculated using maximum likelihood methods and modeled as a function of measured covariates using the logit link function.  Competing models of detection and occupancy were compared using Akaike’s information criterion (AIC).  For most species, detection was a function of habitat variables.  Species occupancy varied across species and across watersheds, and disease occupancy was high across watersheds.  Wheeler Reservoir was likely the most influential driver of species composition and distribution likely because of replacement of lotic stream habitat with lentic reservoir habitat.  Pasture land cover appeared to be an influencing variable in describing variation in occupancy for many fish species. Proportion of pasture land cover also demonstrated a positive effect on disease occupancy among fish collected and a negative effect on bluegill growth.  Bluegill growth also exhibited a negative response to row crop land cover, and occupancy of parasites among all fish showed a potential positive relation to row crop land cover.  Several species of fish collected in the Refuge demonstrated potentially negative responses to urban land cover; most of these species were either absent or had few encounters despite appropriate habitat in two watersheds.  The greatest difference between these watersheds and others with similar habitat was the greater potential for urban, residential, and industrial chemical contamination.  Estimates of species occupancy and detection will be valuable pieces of information for managers tasked to maintain viable fish populations.  Estimates of occupancy may be used as baseline values for assessment of system response to management actions. In this way, estimates are specific, empirical, and measurable objectives for management.  It follows that estimates of occupancy and detection are invaluable for incorporating species and disease response into adaptive management and structured decision making.



Integrated analysis of spring pygmy sunfish habitat in Limestone and Madison Counties, Alabama

Funding Source: U.S. Geological Survey Principal Investigator: Elise Irwin

Research Associate: Kathryn Mickett Kennedy

Student: TBA

Duration: August 2008 – September 2010

Alabama is experiencing rapid growth in many parts of the state; one of the fastest growing is the Huntsville/Madison County region.  Human population growth and associated changes in land use in the region will increase and impose potential stress on natural resources such as water quality and quantity and biodiversity.  The region has multiple species of conservation need and FWS is in the process of considering the listing of at least one additional species, spring pygmy sunfish Elassoma alabamae identified as imperiled.
Evaluation of effects of landscape change on natural ecosystems is needed.  Often water resources (quality and quantity) equate to common currency in systems where multiple competing uses for water have been identified.  In the case of the Huntsville, Alabama area, consumption of groundwater and surface water for human uses is needed; however, several issues related to imperiled aquatic species (fish and snails) have also been identified by State and Federal agencies.  Understanding water sources and effects of increased use on water quality and quantity for multiple competing objectives will require development of models to 1) define linkages among abiotic and biotic components of ecosystems; 2) identify key uncertainties regarding ecosystem function; and 3) quantify effects of management on state variables (see influence diagram; Figure 1).  The goal of this project is to integrate the expertise in USGS Water and Biology to assist FWS with evaluating the effects of ground water and surface water on the persistence of spring pygmy sunfish habitat.  Ultimately, the project will provide FWS with a product that could be incorporated into or become a recovery plan or Habitat Conservation Plan for the species of concern.
Status – Identification of key ecosystem components, uncertainties, links, and stakeholder values is underway.  Meetings with experts in the fields of ecology, water resource management, and groundwater geochemistry have been scheduled.  These meetings will provide the necessary expert opinion and sources for empirical data to inform a structured decision model for management of spring pygmy sunfish.


Assessment of habitats in areas historically used by Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in southern and western Alabama and the Florida panhandle (completed)

Funding Source:  US Fish and Wildlife Service

Principal Investigator: Geoffrey Hill

Graduate Students:  Brian Rolek

Research Technicians:  Elizabeth Wright, Gordon Gover

Duration: August 2006 – August  2009

The recent re-discovery of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (IBWO) in Arkansas has spawned interest in surveys of suitable habitat within the former range of the species.  In the mid-to late-1860s IBWO were shot along the Tombigbee River in Marengo County and the Warrior River west of Greensboro in Alabama.  In 1907, one was reported killed in the Conecuh swamps north of Troy.  Numerous birds were collected in river-swamps of the Florida panhandle during that time period.  Large tracts of bottomland hardwoods and river-swamps still exist in the Tombigbee, Mobile, Tensaw, Black Warrior, Conecuh/ Escambia, Pea/Choctawhatchee, Appalachicola/Chipola, Rivers in Alabama and panhandle Florida.
The objective of this project is to conduct field searches for IBWO in areas of suitable habitat, and characterize the habitats associated with all potential IBWO observations and sign.
Status – Since we initiated a search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Northwest Florida in 2005,we have gathered substantial evidence that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers persist in the forests along the Choctawhatchee River south of Interstate 10. Between May 2005 and January 2008 we documented 25 sightings by competent observers, recorded over 400 sounds consistent with the kent calls and double-knocks of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and detected numerous large cavities in trees.  In the latest funding period, however, there were no credible detections of ivorybills by any members of our search team or by birdwatchers who visited the area.  The 2009 search focused on setting automated cameras that were activated by seismic sensors and conducting counts at pre-determined stations scattered throughout the swamp forest.  At this point we know far too little about the foraging behavior of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in this part of Florida to recommend any sort of detailed forest management such as girdling trees as has been done in Arkansas. We do feel confident in stating that these are shy birds that require large tracts of forest for survival. Our recommendations for management of the forested areas where we have found evidence for the existence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are: 1) Minimize disturbance on lands owned by the Northwest Florida Water Management District. 2) Exclude use of off-road vehicles from NWFWMD lands except on designated roadways. Hunting and fishing should be permitted because there is no evidence that these activities disturb Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and restricting such activities would alienate the many local people who enjoy such recreation. 3) Acquire areas of forest wetland not already owned by NWFWMD and land adjacent to forested wetlands. Acquire corridor creeks that could facilitate dispersal to adjacent bottomlands.


Population status and host plant population status of the Gulf Coast solitary bee, Hesperapis oraria

Funding Source:  U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Principal Investigator:  George Folkerts (Auburn University)

Research Assistant:  Katie Glynn

Duration:  March 2006 – March 2009

Hesperapis oraria was described in 1996 (Cane et al. 1996) from specimens ranging from Horn Island off the coast in Jackson County, Mississippi, eastward to St. Andrews State Park in Bay County, Florida.  This species is the only representative of its genus east of the Mississippi River and thus represents a unique geographical disjunct from other species which inhabit the western U.S. and Mexico.  As far as is known the species is restricted to coastal dune habitats and sandy barrier islands.  Coastal Plain honeycomb head (Balduina angustifolia) is thought to be the sole pollen host for this species (Cane et al. 1996).  Although the host plant ranges farther inland and occurs in coastal Georgia and throughout the Florida peninsula, no specimens of the bee have been taken in most areas of the host plant range.  Thus, it is possible that the species is restricted to the area from which it is presently known.  Nests of this species have not been reported in the literature and were not found during previous survey work.  Thus, the conservation significance of many life history parameters of the species cannot be assessed.  Since the last survey for this species was completed in 1995, Cane (1997) reported that ten populations, located during 1993-1994, survived the effects of Hurricane Opal (October 1995) which impacted essentially the entire known range of the species to some extent.  Since that time, tropical storms or hurricanes have impacted portions of the known range of Hesperapis oraria. An additional factor that may have affected populations of H. oraria relates to the accelerated coastal development that has occurred throughout its range since the bee was discovered. In areas such as the Fort Morgan peninsula in Baldwin County, Alabama, development has markedly changed habitats in the last decade. Cane (1997) reported that a site from which the species was known at Romar Beach, Baldwin County, Alabama, had been destroyed by building construction.
Status – This project was not completed due to the untimely passing of Dr. Folkerts.


Reproductive biology of the federally threatened Price’s Potato Bean(new)

Funding Source:  U.S. Department of Defense (Redstone Arsenal, AL)

Principal Investigators:  Robert Boyd (Auburn University)

Graduate Students:  Kyle Paris (M.S.)

Duration:  August 2009 – May 2012

Apios priceana (Price’s Potato-Bean) is described in the Recovery Plan (USFWS 1993) as a vine that grows up to 15 feet in length from a large underground stem (tuber).  It is often found in open woods and along the edges of streams in areas underlain by limestone rock.  Flowers of this species appear in large clusters and individual flowers are relatively large and showy (about 2 cm long). The species was first collected in 1896 and is known from only a few populations. NatureServe Explorer reports only 25 populations, often with fewer than 50 individuals, and some of these are known or believed to be extirpated. The restricted range, small population sizes, and reports of declining population sizes caused this species to be listed as Federally Threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on February 5, 1990.
Little is known of the natural history of this species of Apios. The Recovery Plan for Apios priceana (USFWS 1993) contains a long list of natural history information needs for this species.  Natural history studies can provide information regarding the general life history situation for a species, and form the basis of a general scientific understanding of a species’ ecological relationships. This type of information can be helpful for managers seeking to understand the basic biology of a threatened species, and we propose to generate this type of information for Price’s Potato-Bean.  We will use the DOD’s Redstone Arsenal population as the focal population for generating this information.
Status – This project was funded only recently and is just getting underway. One graduate student will be working on this project during the coming year (M.S. student Kyle Paris) and an initial visit to the field site has been made.



Adaptive management and monitoring for restoration and faunal recolonization of shoal habitats

Funding source:  Alabama Power Company, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Principal Investigator:    Elise Irwin

Research Associate: Kathryn Mickett Kennedy

Student (s):  Taconya Piper (Ph.D.), Ben Martin (M.S.), Molly Martin (M.S.)

Duration:  October 2006 – September 2010

High imperilment rates of fishes and mussels in the state of Alabama are related to impoundment and regulation of riverine flows.  Specifically, the inundation and disruption of natural flow regimes of shoal habitats in medium sized rivers was hypothesized to be the primary cause for imperilment of 53% of fishes in Southeastern Rivers.  In Alabama, loss of functional shoal has likely affected 64% of fish species of greatest conservation need (GCN).  Restoration and protection of functional shoal habitat in the remaining unimpounded (i.e., free flowing) fragments of rivers of the State is a critical element of conservation of aquatic species.  However, effects of specific flow regimes (i.e., magnitude, duration and timing and their combinations) on shoal habitats and ultimately on biotic processes are not well known.  Therefore, we propose to evaluate effects of experimental flow regimes on shoal dependent aquatic fauna in the Piedmont region of Tallapoosa River.  Specific objectives are to:  1) Compare fish and invertebrate assemblages and population structure between flow-managed and naturally flowing river reaches (including all GNC species); 2) Assess habitat stability (i.e., shoals) and persistence for GCN species and other species of concern; and 3) Determine applicability of flow management and habitat restoration for other river systems.
Status - Analysis of a long-term (1981-1991) historical data set collected throughout the Tallapoosa basin after dam construction suggested populations of shoal-dwelling fish species have been either stable or in possible recovery since dam construction.  Monitoring of faunal response to flow management changes at Harris Dam has been conducted in both spring and fall of 2005-2009.  Results from 2005 indicated group (regulated vs. unregulated) and/or distance from the dam were important factors in explaining the variance in occupancy for several species, including black redhorse, lipstick darter, and muscadine darter.  In preliminary analysis of the 2005-2008 data, these species showed greater fluctuations in population parameters in unregulated sites compared to regulated sites.  This is possibly due to the regional drought conditions experienced in the region from 2006-2008.  Over the four years of data, black redhorse population parameters were again a function of group (regulated vs. unregulated) and/or distance from the dam, suggesting a strong influence of the dam on this species.  Population parameters for lipstick and muscadine darters were more a function of habitat characters, suggesting a lesser influence of the dam.  In addition to population analysis, spawning windows for fishes are being evaluated for GCN species from both assessment of reproductive condition of adults and collection and aging of juveniles. Data from 2005-2009 continue to be processed and analyzed.  We are currently preparing a final report for the first phase of the study which will continue this fiscal year.


Inventory and conservation planning for species of greatest conservation need on Alabama DCNR lands

Funding Source:  Alabama Division Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Auburn University
Principal Investigator: James B.  Grand
Co-principal investigators:  Mike Gangloff, Craig Guyer, Elise Irwin, Carol Johnston, Mark MacKenzie, Ed Loewenstein, Todd Steury
Project Coordinator: Amy Silvano
Graduate Students:  Rob Allgood, Jesse Boulerice, Emily Hartfield, Daniel Holt, Carrie Johnson, Eva Kristofik, Patricia Spears, Jimmy Stiles, Sierra Stiles, Michelle Tacconelli, Kevin White
Duration:  October 2006 – December 2011

During this five-year project the Alabama Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit will coordinate the development of multi-species Inventory and Conservation Plans (ICPs) for selected lands managed by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  The project will potentially include lands in six ecological regions, and could affect 303 species of greatest conservation need (GCN), of which 118 are listed as threatened or endangered. During the first year, a steering committee will be established, lands and species for inclusion in the plan will be identified, information needs assessment will begin, and an outreach plan will be developed.  Subsequent years will be used to gather information and develop decision support tools, conduct outreach programs, and develop the ICPs.  The overall goal is to provide a science-based plan for the conservation of GCN species and the habitats they depend on as they occur or could occur on ADCNR managed lands.  Additional goals are to establish a protocol and a baseline for monitoring GCN species, to provide a basis for the development of new ICPs, to provide guidance for the improvement of populations of GCN species, to improve upon our understanding of the issues affecting the conservation of GCN species, and to foster relationships among public and private stakeholders. 
Status –This is the second year of high priority field research and we conducted surveys on 6 study areas in central Alabama—Coosa WMA , Cheaha State Park, Oak Mountain State Park, Wind Creek State Park, Coldwater Mountain Tract, and Sipsey Sullivan Tract.  At each study area we used standardized protocols to sample bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, mussel, and crayfish populations and their associated habitats.  The surveys were based on a probabilistic sampling design that will allow us to estimate distribution, abundance, and habitat relationships for many of the species that are detected. Habitat information collected on the surveys is being used to develop simulation models for management of two forest types.  The habitat relationship and forest management models will be used to evaluate species responses to potential management actions using structured decision making approaches.


Climate change in the Southeast U.S. and its impact on bird habitat

Funding Source:  U.S. Geological Survey

Principal Investigator: James B.  Grand

Research Associates:  Kevin Kleiner, Tyler Kreps

Duration:  September 2008 – September 2010

Many fish and wildlife agencies are preparing to respond to projected changes in climate local, regional, and global scales.  Numerous climate models were developed under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that predict changes in temperature and rainfall patterns throughout much of North America.  These changes are expected to cause substantial alteration to habitat conditions and thus species distributions.  Current models, run at a continental scale, have been inconsistent with regard to predicting temperature trends and trends in storm duration and intensity over the Southeastern U.S.  Understanding the impact of potential changes in climate on wildlife habitat adds yet another dimension of uncertainty when agencies attempt formulate management plans based on historical trends of population abundance.  Terrestrial landscapes are expected to change yielding altered forest and terrestrial ecotypes, to the extent that species distributions and migratory patterns for birds and other species may dramatically change.  However, this change may be obfuscated by land use change in many areas.  Still, state fish and wildlife agencies will need information on potential changes to wildlife habitat for long-range planning efforts.  Unfortunately, climate change predictions from the current suite of Global Circulation Models (GCM) have not been scaled appropriately for state or local level planning.   This project seeks to develop historical land use and land cover data (LULC) at decadal intervals from the late-1970’s through 2006 and examine change in relation to observed climate and land use. These data will complement ongoing projects at North Carolina State University (NSCU) to examine changes in bird distribution over the same time period.  Data from both projects will be used in conjunction with climate change predictions based on Regional Circulation Models (RCM) that are in development at Texas Tech University to examine the potential changes in bird distribution in the southeastern U.S
Status – Remote-sensing data for mapping the historical LULC have been acquired.  The uniform land cover legend for has been determined for the historic classification.  A protocol for mapping land cover change has been developed and data collection is underway.


Decision Support Models for Multi-species Bird Conservation

Funding Source:  North Carolina State University

Principal Investigator: James B. Grand

Graduate Student: Allison Moody

Duration: January 2008 – December 2010

Populations of many game and non-game bird species in the eastern US are declining relatively rapidly.  With limited funding for bird conservation, there is an urgent need to make informed decisions because in many areas lands suitable for bird conservation are increasingly limited.  Moreover, programs to conserve and manage those lands are competing with land uses that drive the cost effectiveness of conservation programs even higher.  To further improve conservation design and make the best use of limited conservation funds for bird populations, planning efforts need to be spatially explicit, large-scale, based on physiographic not political boundaries, and they need to consider the relative conservation potential of the landscape as well as the relative need for conservation of each bird species.  We are developing a framework for the biological planning and conservation design elements of strategic habitat conservation that will ensure the sustainability of bird populations in the South Atlantic Migratory Bird Initiative (SAMBI) area.  The framework will be based on identified assumptions that can be evaluated and updated through monitoring and applied research.  This framework will be applied based on projections of land use and land cover and emergent projections of animal distribution that incorporate both urbanization and predicted climate change developed by cooperators at the North Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit (NC CFWRU) at NCSU.  The products are expected to identify strategically important areas for bird conservation efforts through partnerships forged by the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture (ACJV).
Status – In conjunction with researchers at NC CFWRU and ACJV staff, during FY2008, we hosted four workshops within the SAMBI area to inform land managers and ACJV partners of this effort and to solicit their input on the review of animal distribution models, selection of focal species, and conservation design objectives through a structured decision making exercise.  A report is in preparation that describes how information provided by workshop participants was used to develop lists of focal species using two approaches.  Projections of land cover change in the Charleston, SC and Camp Le Jeune, NC areas were used in a preliminary examination of the effects of climate change and urban growth on conservation priorities for longleaf pine birds for the ACJV technical team.


Optimal Conservation Strategies to Cope with Climate Change (new)

Funding Source:  U.S. Geological Survey, Southeast Climate Assessment

Principal Investigator: James B.  Grand

Postdoctoral Fellow:  Max Post van der Burg

Graduate students:  Vacant (2)

Duration:  September 2009 – August 2013

Natural resource managers in the southeastern United States face unprecedented pressure to develop effective and efficient conservation strategies.  Climate change and other anthropogenic stressors further complicate the challenges associated with maintaining populations of trust species and the habitats they require.  Additionally, opportunistic, reactive strategies frequently have not been effective for stabilizing or bolstering already declining populations of many terrestrial and aquatic species.  Thus, we propose to employ a strategic, integrated approach to ensure the health and resilience of those species that allows adaptation to changing climate and other anthropogenic activities.  We will use the principles of Adaptive Management (AM) and Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) to address the potential impacts of climate change on terrestrial and aquatic wildlife populations in the southeastern United States at regional scales.  AM provides an ideal framework for the establishment and attainment of conservation objectives in the face of many sources of uncertainty, while SHC is specifically designed to address issues associated with establishing and maintaining target wildlife populations.  Although it can be argued that SHC is only applicable at landscape scales, the iterative nature of both processes is essentially parallel.  To be successful either approach requires explicit involvement and commitment of stakeholders in planning, design, decision making, monitoring, and research.
In Phase I of the project we will hold a series of workshops for the fish and wildlife conservation community to:  1) Identify focal species for planning conservation actions within each ecoregion, 2) Assess the state of populations of focal species based on the best available information, 3) Determine population objectives and habitat objectives for focal species that will ensure their persistence, and 4) Identify and quantify the effects of management and policy alternatives for the conservation of focal species.  In Phase II, we will 1) Select habitat relationship models for predicting population responses by focal species to climate change and conservation actions, 2) Determine optimal conservation strategies based on the identified management and policy alternatives that are most likely to sustain populations of focal species, and 3) Identify key elements for monitoring that will reduce uncertainty regarding the effect of climate change on terrestrial and aquatic populations and their habitats and measure progress towards population and habitat objectives.
Status – We are currently coordinating with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff on timing and participation in Phase I workshops to be held during 2010. A selection committee is interviewing applicants for the Postdoctoral Fellow.  Graduate student applications are in review.



Using time-lapse cameras to estimate abundance and structure of Eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in Alabama

Funding Source:  Alabama Division Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama Wild Turkey Federation, Auburn University

Principal Investigator:  James B. Grand

Graduate Research Assistant:  Phil Damm

Duration:  August 2007 – December 2009

The increased harvest of Eastern Wild Turkey populations in recent years has led to questions regarding the sustainability of this harvest.  We propose a statistically rigorous population survey using time-lapse cameras and bait to estimate age and sex ratios, abundance, and annual poult production to assess harvest sustainability in the state of Alabama.  Hypotheses of density in relation to habitat characteristics at the landscape level have been developed a priori from the literature to determine the sources of variability that cause unequal distribution of wild turkeys at an ecoregional scale. The objectives of the study are to 1) estimate the abundance (through estimates of density and incorporation of models of detectability) of turkeys using repeated time lapse camera surveys in a nine county area in southwest Alabama; 2) estimate annual production (poults per hen) and age and sex structure of the population; and 3) determine sources of heterogeneity in habitat that cause bias in estimates of turkey density and detectability.  An important assumption to this survey is that each trapping occasion (photograph) is independent.  If turkeys become faithful to bait sites that would not normally use those sites, then density estimates could be overestimated.  To explore the possible bias, we intend to conduct a short term telemetry study to determine the effects of bait on density of use of space by turkeys.  Upon completion, this proposal will provide land managers with critical information required to maintain current population levels of wild turkeys through sustainable harvest.
Status - During the summer of 2008, the camera survey was conducted in District V of the ADCNR Division of Wildlife which consists of nine counties.  Division of Wildlife personnel conducted surveys in Mobile, Baldwin, Monroe and Clarke counties.  Auburn University personnel conducted surveys in Conecuh, Choctaw, Washington and Wilcox counties.  One hundred and one plots were surveyed, and 178,951 images were captured.  All images have been reviewed and the number animals by species, as well as the sex and age of all turkeys were recorded.  Data analysis and reporting are in progress.