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Taking the long view: examining factors which influence Northern Spotted Owls

igh survival and successful reproductive output for the owls contained a mixture of old growth forest and other vegetation types. Interior old growth forest allowed for better bird survival, possibly providing them with an area in which to hide from predators, such as the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Great Horned Owls primarily depend upon their sense of sight when hunting, and so the darker areas of the forest provide Spotted Owls with ample hiding places.

But an uneven edge between old growth forest and other vegetation types promoted higher reproduction rates and was also an important part of the Spotted Owls' territories. These edge areas can be abundant with dusky-footed woodrats, the primary prey species for Spotted Owls. Thus a mosaic of mature and old growth forest interspersed with other vegetation types may be very beneficial to the birds, at least in Northwestern California.

In the area of this study, this mosaic appeared to provide the highest quality habitat. In addition, those individuals living in these high quality habitats had a much better chance of surviving unfavorable weather. Those in poorer quality habitat showed a survival rate decrease of as much as 26 percent in cold, wet years. Good quality habitat buffered owls during the unfavorable weather periods much better than did poor quality habitat.

The researchers assert, however, that current logging practices do not generate the type of mosaic observed to be best for the owls. Logging clearcuts are currently conducted by making large, regularly shaped patches with clean edges.

Past forest disturbances, the researchers point out, were governed primarily by wildfires, not logging. Wildfires tend to leave smaller, irregularly shaped patches with uneven edges. Fire disturbance also leaves a variety of successional stages based upon the frequency of low, moderate and severe burns over time. In contras
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Contact: Alison Gillespie
alison@esa.org
202-833-8773 ext 211
Ecological Society of America
16-Nov-2000


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