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Managing forest habitat for conservation-reliant species in a changing climate: The case of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler

Donner, Deahn M., Brown, Donald J., Ribic, Christine A., Nelson, Mark, Greco, Tim
Forest ecology and management 2018 v.430 pp. 265-279
Pinus banksiana, Setophaga kirtlandii, breeding, breeding sites, climate, climate change, climate models, environmental factors, forests, habitat conservation, habitats, monitoring, nesting, planning, plantations, research management, Michigan
Conservation and recovery of species of concern necessitates evaluating forest habitat conditions under changing climate conditions, especially in the early stages of the delisting process. Managers must weigh implications of near-term habitat management activities within the context of changing environmental conditions and a species’ biological traits that may influence their vulnerability to changing conditions. Here we applied established population-habitat relationships based on decades of monitoring and research-management collaborations for the Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii) to project potential impacts of changing environmental conditions to breeding habitat distribution, quantity, and quality in the near future. Kirtland’s warblers are habitat-specialists that nest exclusively within dense jack pine (Pinus banksiana) forests between ca. 5–20 years of age. Using Random Forests to predict changes in distribution and growth rate of jack pine under future scenarios, results indicate the projected distribution of jack pine will contract considerably (ca. 75%) throughout the Lake States region, U.S.A. in response to projected environmental conditions in 2099 under RCP 4.5 and 8.5 climate scenarios regardless of climate model. Reduced suitability for jack pine regeneration across the Lake States may constrain management options, especially for creating high stem-density plantations nesting habitat. However, conditions remain suitable for jack pine regeneration within their historical and current core breeding range in northern Lower Michigan and several satellite breeding areas. Projected changes in jack pine growth rates varied within the core breeding area, but altered growth rates did not greatly alter the duration that habitat remained suitable for nesting by the Kirtland’s Warblers. These findings contribute to Kirtland’s Warbler conservation by informing habitat spatial planning of plantation management to provide a constant supply of nesting habitat based on the spatial variability of potential loss or gain of lands environmentally suitable for regenerating jack pine in the long-term.