Quantifying how territory quality and sociobiology affect recruitment to inform fire management


  • Editor: Todd Katzner


The combined effects of habitat quality, breeder experience and sociobiology on population demography are poorly understood. Natural fire regimes, which influence habitat quality and sociobiology, have been replaced by controlled fire management in most ecosystems. Managing fire mosaics (vegetation at different ages since fire) can be important to sustain species in fire-maintained habitats, but requirements are usually poorly defined. Source-sink theory provides a foundation to quantify such habitat heterogeneity, but source-sink applications are largely focused on modeling. We quantified how habitat quality, breeder experience and non-breeding adult helpers affected Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) recruitment to describe source-sink heterogeneity within local populations. We used 22 years of census data of uniquely marked Florida scrub-jays to measure recruitment at 36 sites and combined that data with habitat-specific survival to characterize habitat-specific demography. To define habitat quality at the territory scale, we used static habitat features (soils, scrub oak cover) and dynamic habitat states (shrub heights and open sandy patches) that resulted from fire mosaics. Habitat quality most affected recruitment followed by the presence of helpers; fire mosaics, described by habitat states, determined whether territories functioned as strong sources, weak sources or sinks. Subdividing landscapes into habitat states allowed quantification of the fire mosaic at the territory scale and population scale, as the proportions of habitat states can predict local population growth rates. Our approach provides an example of how characterizing habitat quality at the territory scale, relative to source-sink categories, can explain habitat heterogeneity within local populations and inform fire management.