Date of Award

5-2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Biological Sciences

Committee Member

Dr. David S. Jachowski, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Catherine M.B. Jachowski

Committee Member

Dr. Matthew E. Gompper

Committee Member

Dr. Susan C. Loeb

Committee Member

Dr. Robert F. Baldwin

Abstract

Eastern spotted skunks are a poorly understood mesocarnivore species that suffered a dramatic range-wide decline in the mid-1900s. Little is known about their current distribution or habitat needs, and in the southern Appalachians, where the Carolinas and Georgia converge spotted skunks have never been studied. We investigated eastern spotted skunk habitat selection to develop an understanding of their habitat and conservation needs in this region. We used remote-camera surveys and occupancy modelling to evaluate factors hypothesized to influence the probability of eastern spotted skunk detection and occurrence at the landscape scale. We detected spotted skunks at 55.6% of our sites and on 18.5% of sampling occasions. Our detection models supported predation risk, camera setup, and scent-based attractants as influential to detection probability but had poor predictive ability overall. Our top occupancy model had moderate predictive power and showed a negative relationship between elevation and occupancy probability. These results suggest spotted skunks in the southern Appalachians may be more widely distributed than previously thought but are also highly cryptic and in need of further investigation. In particular, there is a strong need for researchers to identify thresholds of habitat suitability for this species. To evaluate fine-scale selection of rest site habitat by eastern spotted skunks we used VHF telemetry and discrete choice modelling. Over two summers we tracked 15 spotted skunks and collected habitat data for 233 rest sites and 233 random available sites. Our top model supported positive effects of understory cover and coarse woody debris (CWD), and a negative effect of distance to nearest drainage channel on rest site selection. Previous studies have identified understory cover as important for protection from avian predators, however ours is the first to identify CWD and drainage channels as important to spotted skunk habitat selection. These attributes were hypothesized to be selected based on prey availability, however direct studies of spotted skunk diet and foraging strategies are needed. We also recommend further investigation regarding the importance of drainage networks to eastern spotted skunks. Finally, we suggest that preservation of understory vegetation and CWD may benefit eastern spotted skunk conservation in the southern Appalachians.

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