Distribution Probability of the Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel in the High Allegheny Mountains

In the central Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia, the Virginia northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus; VNFS) is a subspecies of northern flying squirrel generally associated with red spruce (Picea rubens)-dominated forests at high elevations. Listed as endangered by the

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1985 to 2013, the VNFS currently is the subject of a 10-year post-delisting assessment. Still considered a state-listed species in Virginia and a species of greatest conservation need in West Virginia, the VNFS serves as a focal target for red spruce restoration activities in the High Allegheny Region (HAR) of the two states. Owing to the cryptic nature of VNFS and its low detection probability in live-capture surveys, managers in the region rely on habitat models to assess probable presence. Using long-term nest-box, live-trapping, and radio-telemetry data matched with updated high elevation forest-type coverage data for the region, we created a new VNFS resource selection function and spatial coverage map. Inputting red spruce cover, increasing elevation, and decreasing landform index (increasing site shelteredness) composed the best model explaining VNFS occurrence. The calculated amount of low-quality habitat was congruent with previous modeling efforts; however, inclusion of more VNFS occurrence records in the current effort indicated that previous efforts substantially underestimated the amount (>400%) of extant high quality VNFS habitat. We estimate the HAR to contain approximately 197,952 ha with ≥0.50 predicted probability of occurrence of VNFS. In addition to potentially improving current and future VNFS live-capture surveys, with this model managers may better target forests for red spruce restoration to increase high elevation forest ecological integrity and to improve habitat patch connectedness for VNFS.

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