multistate, fire, patch dynamics, disturbance, survival, recruitment, capture-recapture, scrub, restoration, prairie, cooperative breeding, model selection, Aphelocoma coerulescens


I confronted empirical habitat data (1994-2004) and population data (1988-2005) with ecological theory on habitat dynamics, recruitment, survival, and dispersal to develop predictive relationships between landcover variation and population dynamics. I focus on Florida Scrub-Jays, although one chapter presents a model for the potential influence of habitat restoration on viability of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Both species are unique to Florida landscapes that are dominated by shrubs and grasses and maintained by frequent fires. Both species are declining, even in protected areas, despite their protected status. I mapped habitat for both species using grid polygon cells to quantify population potential and habitat quality. A grid cell was the average territory size and the landcover unit in which habitat-specific recruitment and survival occurred. I measured habitat-specific recruitment and survival of Florida Scrub-Jays from 1988-2008. Data analyses included multistate analysis, which was developed for capture-recapture data but is useful for analyzing many ecological processes, such as habitat change. I relied on publications by other investigators for empirical Florida Grasshopper Sparrow data. The amount of potential habitat was greatly underestimated by landcover mapping not specific to Florida Scrub-Jays. Overlaying east central Florida with grid polygons was an efficient method to map potential habitat and monitor habitat quality directly related to recruitment, survival, and management needs. Most habitats for both species were degraded by anthropogenic reductions in fire frequency. Degradation occurred across large areas. Florida Scrub-Jay recruitment and survival were most influenced by shrub height states. Multistate modeling of shrub heights showed that state transitions were influenced by vegetation composition, edges, and habitat management. Measured population declines of 4% per year corroborated habitat-specific modeling predictions. Habitat quality improved over the study period but not enough to recover precariously small populations. The degree of landcover fragmentation influenced mean Florida Scrub-Jay dispersal distances but not the number of occupied territories between natal and breeding territories. There was little exchange between populations, which were usually further apart than mean dispersal distances. Florida Scrub-Jays bred or delayed breeding depending on age, sex, and breeding opportunities. I show an urgent need also for Florida Grasshopper Sparrow habitat restoration given that the endangered bird has declined to only two sizeable populations and there is a high likelihood for continued large decline. A major effect of habitat fragmentation identified in this dissertation that should apply to many organisms in disturbance prone systems is that fragmentation disrupts natural processes, reducing habitat quality across large areas. Humans have managed wildland fire for > 40,000 years, so it should be possible to manage habitat for many endangered species that make Florida's biodiversity unique. This dissertation provides methods to quantify landscape units into potential source and sink territories and provides a basis for applying adaptive management to reach population and conservation goals.


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Graduation Date



Noss, Reed


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program

Conservation Biology








Release Date

May 2009

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Included in

Biology Commons