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Evaluation of Environmental Factors Influencing American Marten Distribution and Density in New Hampshire
Open Access Thesis
Master of Science (M.S.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Though the American marten (Martes americana) is widely distributed across northern North America, habitat use and population abundance vary widely across the range. Due to its status as a furbearer, the species has been extensively researched, resulting in a large body of knowledge about the species’ ecology, distribution, and abundance, as well as drivers of population structure and dynamics. More recently, marten research has shifted focus to genetics, habitat associations, and estimation of population state variables. The rapid increase in estimation of states such as occupancy, abundance, and density has likely been driven by the increasing accessibility of noninvasive field technology, such as noninvasive genetic sampling and remote camera trapping, and by the statistical development of ecological hierarchical models. This convergence of advances in field and analytical methods is most apparent in the now widespread application of spatial capture-recapture, an approach that produces robust estimates of population densities and abundance that can be compared across time and space.
These new models are especially valuable near the edges of marten distribution where populations are often recovering from historic overexploitation, and expanding into areas they have previously been absent from. In these areas, detailed, landscape-scale understanding of marten populations is necessary in order to establish current conditions, effectively monitor changes, and predict what effect management actions may have on marten populations. I utilized these models to study marten populations in New Hampshire where marten are a species of management interest, and recent recovery has led to their removal from the state endangered species list.
Through a collaborative effort with New Hampshire Fish and Game Department in the winters of 2017 and 2018, marten were surveyed across northern New Hampshire using a novel camera trap design that allows for the identification of individuals. These data were analyzed using spatial capture-recapture models, allowing me to evaluate habitat associations that explain spatial variation in marten density and provide a population status assessment for the New Hampshire marten population. Marten densities are highest in the White Mountain National Forest, though other protected lands in northern New Hampshire also appear to support larger populations. The greatest population densities coincided with deeper snows, increased canopy closure, and intermediate boreal biomass. These results provide additional support for several hypotheses explaining marten habitat use across their range while also providing novel insight that will inform active management of both marten and the habitat they occur in.
In addition to the population status assessment, I evaluated the relationship between estimates of occupancy and density in New Hampshire. Though utility of non-invasive methodology can decrease research costs, the need for individual identification in spatial capture-recapture models represents a cost increase over occupancy models. My results suggest that the two are positively correlated; however, occupancy is a poor predictor of the entire range of density, especially because the variables used to predict each of the state variables are different. Thus, occupancy is likely not a good proxy for density in New Hampshire, however it could be used to track general trends through time so long as density is re-evaluated periodically.
Toni Lyn Morelli
Drummey, Donovan, "Evaluation of Environmental Factors Influencing American Marten Distribution and Density in New Hampshire" (2021). Masters Theses. 1010.