Effects of seasonal precipitation and habitat associations on the demographics of Mexican spotted owl prey in the canyonlands region of southern Utah
Thornburg, John Ramsey, III
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Most food habit studies of Mexican Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis lucida) have been conducted in forested environments in more southern portions of their range. Through regurgitated pellet analyses, these studies showed the majority of Mexican Spotted Owl prey consumed was comprised of Cricetid rodents, specifically woodrats (Neotoma spp.) and white-footed mice (Peromyscus spp.). In the northernmost portions of their range, Mexican Spotted Owls inhabit rocky canyon habitats within the Colorado Plateau. In the canyonlands region, few studies have investigated the population ecology and habitat associations of the primary prey of spotted owls and no studies have examined the relationships among primary prey demographics and their responses to seasonal precipitation. Given the Mexican Spotted Owls status as a threatened species, increased knowledge of prey species relationships with climate and habitat may assist in future management of spotted owl populations across the canyonlands region. Using a seven-year historic data set collected at three study sites in Grand Staircase -- Escalante National Monument from 2001 to 2007 and three years of data collected at five study sites in Capitol Reef National Park from 2013 to 2015, I described the nocturnal small mammal communities, investigated primary prey habitat and microhabitat component associations, and investigated the effects of timing and amount of seasonal precipitation on primary prey abundance and diversity in both study areas. Cricetid rodents were the most abundant nocturnal small mammals and potential prey available for spotted owls inhabiting rocky canyon habitats. Microhabitat analyses revealed Cricetid rodents partitioned space and resources that minimized interspecific competition enabling coexistence in narrow canyon systems with limited biological resources. Linear mixed-effects modeling indicated winter precipitation was the primary driver of spotted owl primary prey demographics in the canyonlands region.