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First Advisor

David S. Maehr


Successful forest management requires an understanding of the habitat requirements of individual species at multiple spatial scales. The cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is a neotropical migratory songbird that has recently gained widespread attention as a species of conservation and management concern. It breeds in mature, deciduous forests of eastern North America and has experienced precipitous range-wide declines over the last 40 years. Although Kentucky likely supports one of the largest breeding populations of the species, no information exists on cerulean warbler habitat selection within the state. The overall purpose of this study was to identify important habitat features associated with cerulean warbler distribution on breeding grounds in eastern Kentucky. In 2004 and 2005, I examined cerulean warbler distribution and associated vegetative characteristics within a hierarchical framework at the stand, territory, and nest-site levels. I used the Information-Theoretic approach to develop 2 sets of a priori models. The first set of models attempted to explain cerulean warbler site occupancy through presence and absence data obtained from point counts. The second set of models attempted to explain differences between preferred song perches and available habitat. Due to small sample size, nest-site information was not used in modeling efforts. Results from presence and absence modeling were inconclusive as no habitat-related differences were identified between occupied and unoccupied locations within the study area. However, territory modeling revealed three potentially important predictors of cerulean warbler habitat: large diameter trees, east-facing aspect, and increased shrub cover. This study reinforces general patterns observed throughout the cerulean warblers breeding range. Although the mechanisms causing cerulean warbler declines are still poorly understood, conservation and management efforts directed toward protecting and establishing large tracts of mature forest with large trees on mesic, sheltered sites should be a reasonable approach to managing cerulean warbler populations on the breeding grounds.