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Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) Occupancy in Fragmented Montane Longleaf Pine Forests

J.T. Pynne1,2,4,*, Jonathan M. Stober3, and Andrew J. Edelman4

1D.B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. 2The Jones Center at Ichauway, Newton, GA 39870. 3Shoal Creek Ranger District, Talladega National Forest, United States Forest Service, Heflin, AL 36264. 4Department of Biology, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA 30118. *Corresponding author.

Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 19, Issue 2 (2020): 403–417

Sciurus niger L. (Eastern Fox Squirrel) is associated with montane Pinus palustris Mill. (Longleaf Pine) forests in the Piedmont and Ridge and Valley, but little is known about the species’ distribution and abundance within this region. We conducted an occupancy study of Eastern Fox Squirrels in montane Longleaf Pine forests of the Talladega National Forest, AL. We surveyed 73 camera trap sites for Eastern Fox Squirrels and measured surrounding vegetation and landscape features. Eastern Fox Squirrels were patchily distributed across the study area and only observed at 11% of sites. Occupancy modeling indicated Eastern Fox Squirrels had a relatively high probability of detection (0.680) but a low probability of occupancy (0.111). Eastern Fox Squirrel occupancy was negatively associated with slope steepness. This result is possibly because prescribed fire and other restoration efforts of open-pine conditions associated with Eastern Fox Squirrel habitat in Talladega National Forest are focused on logistically accessible ridges and more moderately sloped areas. Steep slopes also likely decrease accessibility and dispersion ability for Eastern Fox Squirrels. The overall low occupancy of Eastern Fox Squirrels in the Shoal Creek Ranger District of Talladega National Forest may be linked to the highly fragmented montane Longleaf Pine habitat caused by topography and past fire suppression.

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