Statistical evaluation and GIS model development to predict and classify habitat quality for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher

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The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) has been studied for over two decades and listed as endangered for most of that time. Though the flycatcher has been granted protected

The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) has been studied for over two decades and listed as endangered for most of that time. Though the flycatcher has been granted protected status since 1995, critical habitat designation for the flycatcher has not shared the same history. Critical habitat designation is essential for achieving the long-term goals defined in the flycatcher recovery plan where emphasis is on both the protection of this species and "the habitats supporting these flycatchers [that] must be protected from threats and loss" (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002). I used a long-term data set of habitat characteristics collected at three study areas along the Lower Colorado River to develop a method for quantifying habitat quality for flycatcher. The data set contained flycatcher nest observations (use) and habitat availability (random location) from 2003-2010 that I statistically analyzed for flycatcher selection preferences. Using both Pearson's Chi-square test and SPSS Principal Component Analysis (PCA) I determined that flycatchers were selecting 30 habitat traits significantly different among an initial list of 127 habitat characteristics. Using PCA, I calculated a weighted value of influence for each significant trait per study area and used those values to develop a habitat classification system to build predictive models for flycatcher habitat quality. I used ArcGIS® Model Builder to develop three habitat suitability models for each of the habitat types occurring in western riparian systems, native, mixed exotic and exotic dominated that are frequented by breeding flycatchers. I designed a fourth model, Topock Marsh, to test model accuracy on habitat quality for flycatchers using reserved accuracy assessment points of previous nest locations. The results of the fourth model accurately predicted a decline in habitat at Topock Marsh that was confirmed by SWCA survey reports released in 2011 and 2012 documenting a significant decline in flycatcher productivity in the Topock Marsh study area.