Date of Award:

2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Eugene W. Schupp

Abstract

I studied the habitat characteristics of Mexican Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis lucida), a federally threatened species, in the canyonlands region of southern Utah. Vegetative and geologic features were measured within 10m wide belt plots at each current or historic nest/roost site. Based on our findings, past research, and species life history characteristics, I constructed a species distribution model (SDM) predicting Mexican Spotted Owl distribution in Utah for the Colorado Plateau region. The SDM was generated using the following inputs as important habitat variables: elevation, aspect, surface ratio, curvature, slope, geology, and vegetation. Program R was used for model development and generation. The SDM was generated using an ensemble model approach by combining three modeling techniques: random forest, logistic regression, and maximum entropy. This study combines measured habitat characteristics, with sophisticated geographic information system (GIS) tools and SDMs to provide managers with an informative and useful toolkit for Mexican Spotted Owl conservation.

Chapter 2 discusses modeling techniques and SDM development. I detail how individual models were constructed using random forest, logistic regression, and maximum entropy and how these were combined into an ensemble model. Final models indicated that several vegetative and geologic characteristics were considered important habitat characteristics for predicting Mexican Spotted Owl presence within the Colorado Plateau. The SDMs produced eight distribution maps predicting Mexican Spotted Owl presence and probability of occurrence in Utah for the Colorado Plateau region.

Chapter 3 explains the use of SDMs by managers and synthesizes findings of measured habitat characteristics for southern Utah. For habitat characteristics I measured a combination of vegetative and geologic features within 10m wide belts at current and historic Mexican Spotted Owl sites. Vegetative features measured included: height and species of all trees and shrubs, position of tree or shrub within plot, presence of canopy cover, and tree diameter at breast height (DBH). Geologic features measured included: geologic formation type, wall height, structure type, number of caves, and number of solution cavities. I found that canyon width and density of vegetation > 2.5 m tall were significantly correlated with Mexican Spotted Owl presence.

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