A team of ecologists at The University of Toledo was awarded a two-year state wildlife grant from Ohio and Michigan to study flagship species of the Oak Openings region to better inform conservation and management strategies.
Using radio telemetry, Dr. Jeanine Refsnider, evolutionary ecologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Henry Streby, ornithologist and assistant professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences, will focus on the productivity and survival of red-headed woodpeckers, eastern box turtles and spotted turtles particularly in the oak savanna and wet prairie habitats in northwest Ohio and southern Michigan.The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are funding the work with a $400,000 grant through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Oak savanna and wet prairie habitats have drastically declined in this area during the last century,” Refsnider said. “We are interested in three flagship species of Oak Openings ecosystems. If they’re doing well, the ecosystem is probably doing well. But if the animals are there yet not successfully producing offspring, the populations will continue to decline and possibly go extinct. We want to give conservationists a powerful tool to optimize the landscape and maintain wildlife populations, and that requires knowing not just whether rare species are present, but also whether they are reproducing successfully.”
Work begins in the spring on the study, which is titled “Distribution, Density and Demography of Red-Headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Box Turtles and Spotted Turtles in Oak Openings of Ohio and Michigan.”“If the habitat is good for charismatic mega fauna, there’s a good chance it’s right for the whole system,” Streby said. “If it’s bad for one of these, it’s likely representing underlying problems for all species.”
Radio transmitters will be epoxied to the turtles and harnessed to the woodpeckers. They do not inhibit the animal’s movement.
For all three species, UT researchers will be conducting distribution and density surveys, monitoring adults with radio-telemetry, monitoring nests, and tracking juveniles with radio-telemetry when they leave the nest.
Researchers will then use nest and juvenile survival data to determine which landscape compositions and configurations result in the best overall productivity for any species individually and all three together.
“We want to identify the recipe for a quality habitat and map where nests might have the highest success in getting what they need for a self-sustaining population,” Streby said. “The Oak Openings region is a complex patchwork of wetlands, uplands, thin forest, dense forest, prairie and wet prairie. This comprehensive study is necessary to demonstrate which parts of the habitat are working and inform conservation management in the future.”