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Predicted Spatial Distribution of the Eastern Spotted Skunk (Spilogale putorius) in Virginia Using Detection and Non-detection Records

Emily D. Thorne1,* and W. Mark Ford2

1Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061. 2US Geological Survey, Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Blacksburg, VA 24061. *Corresponding author.

Southeastern Naturalist,Volume 20, Special Issue 11 (2021): 39–51

Abstract
The geographic distribution of a species is a fundamental component in understanding its ecology and is necessary for forming effective conservation plans. For rare and elusive species of conservation concern, accurate maps of predicted occurrence are particularly problematic and often highly subjective. Spilogale putorius (Eastern Spotted Skunk) populations have experienced large declines since the 1940s. Their elusive behavior and perceived rarity result in low detection probability when using conventional methods for sampling small mammals. Low detection probability often causes uncertainty as to where Eastern Spotted Skunks could be a management concern. We modeled the distribution of predicted occurrence of Eastern Spotted Skunks using verifiable occurrence and non-detection records obtained throughout Virginia from 2010 to 2020. Occurrence data consisted of trapping records reported to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, incidental photo-verified reports of sightings and road-killed animals, and remote-camera detections. Non-detections were presumed at baited remote-camera locations following intense survey efforts. We fit predicted occurrence models using generalized linear modeling in an information-theoretic framework using the package ‘stats’ in Program R. Our results incidated a greater probability of presence from the Blue Ridge westward, increasing with slope steepness along northeastern- to southeastern-facing slopes and decreasing with slope steepness along southeastern- to southwestern-facing slopes. Emergent rock outcrops prominent along northeastern slopes offer ample protective rocky cover, whereas mixed Quercus spp. (oak), Kalmia latifolia (Mountain Laurel), and Rhododendron maximum (Rosebay Rhododendron) forest communities along southern-facing slopes provide suitable areas of cover, both of which are critical for spotted skunk survival and reproductive success. Our analysis provides insight into the relationships between landscape features and Eastern Spotted Skunk distributions across Virginia. Understanding these relationships is critical for the effective management and conservation of this vulnerable species.

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