What makes urban parks good for California quail? Evaluating park suitability, species persistence, and the potential for reintroduction into a large urban national park.
Preserving and restoring wildlife in urban areas benefits both urban ecosystems and the well-being of urban residents. While urban wildlife conservation is a rapidly developing field, the majority of conservation research has been performed in wildland areas. Understanding the applicability of wildland science to urban populations and the relative importance of factors limiting species persistence are of critical importance to identifying prescriptive management strategies for restoring wildlife to urban parks. We evaluated how habitat fragmentation, habitat quality and mortality threats influence species occupancy and persistence in urban parks. We chose California quail Callipepla californica as a representative species with potential to respond to urban conservation. We used publicly available eBird data to construct occupancy models of quail in urban parks across their native range, and present an application using focal parks interested in exploring quail reintroduction. Urban parks had a 0.23 ± 0.02 probability of quail occupancy, with greater occupancy in larger parks that were less isolated from potential source populations, had higher shrub cover and had lower impervious cover. Less isolated parks had higher colonization rates, while larger parks had lower extinction rates. These results align with findings across urban ecology showing greater biodiversity in larger and more highly connected habitat patches. A case study highlighted that interventions to increase effective park size and improve connectivity would be most influential for two highly urban focal parks, while changes to internal land cover would have a relatively small impact. Low joint extinction probability in the parks (0.010 ± 0.013) indicated reintroduced populations could persist for some time. Synthesis and applications. We show how eBird data can be harnessed to evaluate the responsiveness of wildlife to urban parks of variable size, connectivity and habitat quality, highlighting what management actions are most needed. Using California quail as an example, we found park size, park isolation and presence of coyotes are all important drivers of whether quail can colonize and persist in parks. Our results suggest reintroducing quail to parks could be successful provided parks are large enough to support quail, and management actions are taken to enhance regional connectivity or periodic assisted colonization is used to supplement local populations.