Modeling demographic performance of northern spotted owls relative to forest habitat in Oregon

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 



Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) are known to be associated with late-successional forests in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, but the effects of habitat on their demographic performance are relatively unknown. We developed statistical models relating owl survival and productivity to forest cover types within the Roseburg Study Area in the Oregon Coast Range of Oregon, USA. We further combined these demographic parameters using a Leslie-type matrix to obtain an estimate of habitat fitness potential for each owl territory (n = 94). We used mark–recapture methods to develop models for survival and linear mixed models for productivity. We measured forest composition and landscape patterns at 3 landscape scales centered on nest and activity sites within owl territories using an aerial photo-based map and a Geographic Information System (GIS). We also considered additional covariates such as age, sex, and presence of barred owls (Strix varia), and seasonal climate variables (temperature and precipitation) in our models. We used Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) to rank and compare models. Survival had a quadratic relationship with the amount of late- and mid-seral forests within 1,500 m of nesting centers. Survival also was influenced by the amount of precipitation during the nesting season. Only 16% of the variability in survival was accounted for by our best model, but 85% of this was due to the habitat variable. Reproductive rates fluctuated biennially and were positively related to the amount of edge between late- and mid-seral forests and other habitat classes. Reproductive rates also were influenced by parent age, amount of precipitation during nesting season, and presence of barred owls. Our best model accounted for 84% of the variability in productivity, but only 3% of that was due to the habitat variable. Estimates of habitat fitness potential (which may range from 0 to infinity) for the 94 territories ranged from 0.74 to 1.15 ( = 1.05, SE = 0.07). All but 1 territory had 95% confidence intervals overlapping 1.0, indicating a potentially stable population based on habitat pattern. Our results seem to indicate that while mid- and late-seral forests are important to owls, a mixture of these forest types with younger forest and nonforest may be best for owl survival and reproduction. Our results are consistent with those of researchers in northern California, USA, who used similar methods in their analyses. However, we believe that given the low variability in survival and productivity attributed to habitat, further study is needed to confirm our conclusions before they can be used to guide forest management actions for spotted owls.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Modeling demographic performance of northern spotted owls relative to forest habitat in Oregon
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.2193/0022-541X(2004)068[1039:MDPONS]2.0.CO;2
Volume 68
Issue 4
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher The Wildlife Society
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 15 p.
First page 1039
Last page 1053