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Synthesis of Red-cockaded Woodpecker management strategies and suggestions for regional specificity in future management


Gigliotti, Franco; Martin, Emily; Ferguson, Paige (2021), Synthesis of Red-cockaded Woodpecker management strategies and suggestions for regional specificity in future management, Dryad, Dataset,


The Red-cockaded Woodpecker ( Dryobates borealis , RCW) was listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973 due to significant population declines resulting from habitat loss and fragmentation, and the species has been intensively managed since then. We reviewed management strategies commonly used to conserve the RCW, emphasizing studies conducted after publication of the most recent Recovery Plan in 2003, to evaluate the efficacy of each strategy across the RCW’s range and identify demographic and environmental factors that influence the success of each strategy. Of the management strategies reviewed, outcomes from prescribed fire vary the most across the RCW’s range because prescribed fire is influenced by the site’s vegetation, abiotic conditions, and land use history. The abundance of cavity kleptoparasites varies across sites, but kleptoparasite control is only a high priority in small RCW populations. The long-term effectiveness of artificial cavities and translocations, which are highly effective across the RCW’s range in the short-term, requires suitable habitat, which is strongly influenced by prescribed fire. Regional variation in RCW management may be needed because RCW populations that are not in archetypical suitable habitat (sensu Recovery Plan Standards) may benefit from management methods that are not suitable for large RCW populations in archetypical habitats (e.g. installing many cavity restrictor plates and cavity inserts). RCW management strategies have been studied most in the South Central Plains and Southeastern Plains ecoregions, and more research in other ecoregions would be valuable. We encourage consideration of how management varies according to population demographics and site characteristics as opposed to a “one-size fits all” management approach for the RCW, which inhabits broad geographic ranges and sites of varying productivity and will continue to rely on management efforts after downlisting or delisting from the Endangered Species Act. 


We used the Web of Science and Scopus research engines to identify studies that examined (1) the influence of different management strategies on RCW demographics and population growth, (2) the ecological factors that affect RCW abundance at local and regional scales, or (3) the relative importance of demographic vs. environmental processes when considering the size or location (i.e. ecoregion and environmental conditions) of a population. Specifically, we searched topics and titles of studies using the phrase ‘Red-cockaded Woodpecker’ AND one of the following terms: ‘artificial cavity’, ‘budding’, ‘cavity tree selection’, ‘community’, ‘decision making’, ‘decline’, ‘demographic modeling’, ‘depredation’, ‘dispersal’, ‘environment’, ‘forage’, ‘genetic’, ‘habitat’, ‘hurricane’, ‘management’, ‘mortality’, ‘nest’, ‘nest success’, ‘population’, ‘prescribed fire’, ‘reproduction’, ‘survival’, ‘translocation’, or ‘vegetation’. We accessed Web of Science and Scopus intermittently from June 2016 to April 2021. We included studies we found through our search if they tested management strategies or investigated mechanisms that impact RCW population growth. We located additional peer reviewed studies, proceedings from seminars, and book chapters using citations from the studies we found using the research engines or through recommendations from experts in RCW management. For each source, we recorded the study location, sample size, statistical tests, and key results, including measurements (e.g., p-value, effect size) that reflected the effectiveness of a management strategy or indicated how factors influenced RCW population growth. Since our goal was to evaluate the response of RCW populations to management after the most recent Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery Plan, many of the studies we cite were conducted and published after the publication of the Recovery Plan in 2003. However, we also cite earlier studies to provide context and describe temporal trends in RCW populations. In total, we found 120 publications that met our search requirements.

Usage Notes

Rows containing N/A values in the Management Section or Deemed Effective columns indicate the lack of additional management approaches tested in the focal study. Rows containing NULL values in the Management Section, Deemed Effective, and Population Size columns indicate that the focal study was not a management focused study, and therefore, these studies were not used to generate Figure 1 presented in the text. However, non-management driven studies were used to generate Figure 2 in the text, along with the management driven studies used to generate Figure 1. Rows containing N/A values in the Ecoregion column indicate that the publication was not a location-based study. Rows containing N/A values in the Population Size column indicate that the cited study was a computer simulation that varied the size of the simulated population.