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Ecol Appl. 2006 Apr;16(2):584-600.

Demography of northern flying squirrels informs ecosystem management of western interior forests.

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U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, 1133 N. Western Avenue, Wenatchee, Washington 98801, USA.


We studied northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) demography in the eastern Washington Cascade Range to test hypotheses about regional and local abundance patterns and to inform managers of the possible effects of fire and fuels management on flying squirrels. We quantified habitat characteristics and squirrel density, population trends, and demography in three typical forest cover types over a four-year period. We had 2034 captures of flying squirrels over 41 000 trap nights from 1997 through 2000 and marked 879 squirrels for mark-recapture population analysis. Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest appeared to be poorer habitat for flying squirrels than young or mature mixed-conifer forest. About 35% fewer individuals were captured in open pine forest than in dry mixed-conifer Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and grand fir (Abies grandis) forests. Home ranges were 85% larger in pine forest (4.6 ha) than in mixed-conifer forests (2.5 ha). Similarly, population density (Huggins estimator) in ponderosa pine forest was half (1.1 squirrels/ha) that of mixed-conifer forest (2.2 squirrels/ha). Tree canopy cover was the single best correlate of squirrel density (r = 0.77), with an apparent threshold of 55% canopy cover separating stands with low- from high-density populations. Pradel estimates of annual recruitment were lower in open pine (0.28) than in young (0.35) and mature (0.37) forest. High recruitment was most strongly associated with high understory plant species richness and truffle biomass. Annual survival rates ranged from 45% to 59% and did not vary among cover types. Survival was most strongly associated with understory species richness and forage lichen biomass. Maximum snow depth had a strong negative effect on survival. Rate of per capita increase showed a density-dependent response. Thinning and prescribed burning in ponderosa pine and dry mixed conifer forests to restore stable fire regimes and forest structure might reduce flying squirrel densities at stand levels by reducing forest canopy, woody debris, and the diversity or biomass of understory plants, truffles, and lichens. Those impacts might be ameliorated by patchy harvesting and the retention of large trees, woody debris, and mistletoe brooms. Negative stand-level impacts would be traded for increased resistance and resilience of dry-forest landscapes to now-common, large-scale stand replacement fires.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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