The influence of forest fragmentation and landscape pattern on American martens.
The effects of forest fragmentation on American martens (Martes americana) were investigated by evaluating differences in marten capture rates (excluding recaptures) in 18 study sites in the Uinta Mountains, Utah, with different levels of fragmentation resulting from timber harvest clearcuts and natural openings. The focus was on low levels of fragmentation, where forest connectivity was maintained and non-forest cover ranged from 2% to 42%. Martens appeared to respond negatively to low levels of habitat fragmentation, based on the significant decrease in capture rates within the series of increasingly fragmented landscapes. Martens were nearly absent from landscapes having > 25% non-forest cover, even though forest connectivity was still present. Marten capture rates were negatively correlated with increasing proximity of open areas and increasing extent of high-contrast edges. Forested landscapes appeared unsuitable for martens when the average nearest-neighbour distance between open (non-forested) patches was < 100 m. In these landscapes, the proximity of open areas created strips of forest edge and eliminated nearly all forest interior. Small mammal densities were significantly higher in clearcuts than in forests, but marten captures were not correlated with prey abundance or biomass associated with clearcuts. Conservation efforts for the marten must consider not only the structural aspects of mature forests, but the landscape pattern in which the forest occurs. It is recommended that the combination of timber harvests and natural openings comprise < 25% of landscapes ≥ 9 km2 in size. The spatial pattern of open areas is also important, because small, dispersed openings result in less forest interior habitat than one large opening at the same percentage of fragmentation. Progressive cutting from a single patch would retain the largest amount of interior forest habitat.