Effects of barred owls on estimates of site occupancy by northern spotted owls

Investigators from Weyerhaeuser and NCASI have published a paper titled “Site Occupancy Dynamics of Northern Spotted Owls in the Eastern Cascades, Washington, USA, 1990–2003” (Journal of Wildlife Management 74(6):1264–1274). The authors are A.J. Kroll (Weyerhaeuser), T.L. Fleming (NCASI, retired) and L.L. Irwin (NCASI). The paper documents a decline in site occupancy probabilities for northern spotted owls over the study period and reports that barred owl presence had a negative effect on spotted owl detection probabilities. The abstract follows.

“Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) have received intense research and management interest since their listing as a threatened species by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990. Several spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) response variables have been examined in various investigations, but recent advances in statistical modeling permit evaluations of temporal and spatial variability in site occupancy, local-extinction, and colonization probabilities while incorporating imperfect detection probabilities. Following recent work by other researchers on site occupancy dynamics of spotted owls in Oregon, USA, we evaluated temporal variability of detection, occupancy, local extinction, and colonization probabilities for spotted owls, as well as potential influences of barred owl (Strix varia) presence on these parameters. We used spotted owl survey data collected from 1990 to 2003 on a study area in the eastern Cascades Mountains, Washington, USA, to compare competing occupancy models from Program PRESENCE using Akaike’s Information Criterion. Detection probabilities for individual spotted owls ranged from 0.54 to 0.80 if barred owls were not detected during the survey season and from 0.19 to 0.71 if barred owls were detected during the survey season. Pair detection probabilities ranged from 0.27 to 0.67 if barred owls were not detected during an individual survey and from 0.09 to 0.36 if barred owls were detected during an individual survey. During the study, site occupancy probabilities for spotted owl pairs declined by approximately 50%. For all spotted owls, both singles and pairs, site occupancy probabilities declined moderately during the study. Barred owl presence was negatively associated with spotted owl detection probabilities, and it had a positive association with
local-extinction probabilities for all spotted owls, both singles and pairs. Given that our study area has supported higher densities of barred owls for longer periods than other study areas, our results may provide insight into how barred owls have influenced spotted owl site occupancy dynamics in adjacent British Columbia, Canada, or will influence spotted owl site occupancy dynamics in Oregon and California, USA, in the future.”

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