Bachman's Sparrow Habitat in the Lower Flint River Basin, Georgia

Bachman's sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis) populations are generally declining throughout much of the Southeast, and habitat loss is suspected as the principal force driving declines. Therefore, we assessed the potential effects of current land use practices on Bachman's sparrows (BACS) within the lower Flint River Basin (LFRB). We then used a previously developed habitat model to quantify current available BACS habitat and used common landscape metrics to describe fragmentation of remaining habitat. Prior to major land use changes associated with European settlement, approximately 86% of the LFRB was suitable for BACS. Of this once suitable habitat, 3.8% is now urban, 42.4% is now in agriculture, and 48.2% is now in forests unsuitable for BACS. We estimated that only 3.3% of the original upland forests within the basin remain suitable for BACS. Today, 97.4% of suitable habitat occurs in patches <30 ha with 17.9% of patches fragmented by >1000 m. Small patch size and increased distance between patches combine to yield low proximity indices. Pine plantation management emphasizing prescribed fire and thinning may increase overall habitat availability for BACS while reducing habitat fragmentation. The recent interest in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) restoration may similarly benefit BACS.

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