Knowing the current forest distribution and patch size characteristics is integral to the development of geographically defined, habitat-based conservation objectives for breeding birds. Towards this end, we classified 2.6 million ha of forest cover within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley using 1992 thematic mapper satellite imagery. Although historically this area, from southern Illinois to southern Louisiana, was dominated by forested wetlands, forest cover remains on less than 25% of the floodplain. Remaining forest cover is comprised of > 38,000 discrete forest patches > 2 ha. Mean patch area (64.1?5.2 ha; 0 ?SE) was highly skewed towards small fragment size. Larger patches had a higher proportion of more hydric forest cover classes than did smaller patches which had a higher proportion of less hydric forest cover classes. Public lands accounted for 16% of remaining forested wetlands. Fewer than 100 forest patches exceeded our hypothesized habitat objective (4000 ha minimum contiguous forest area) intended to support self-sustaining populations of forest breeding birds. To increase the number of forest patches exceeding 4000 ha contiguous area, and thereby increase the likelihood of successful forest bird conservation, we recommend afforestation adjoining existing forest fragments ?1012 ha and focused within designated Forest Bird Conservation Regions.
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Forest area and distribution in the Mississippi alluvial valley: Implications for breeding bird conservation