Red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW) have been on the federal list of endangered species since 1975, primarily due to habitat destruction and fragmentation that reduced Red-cockaded Woodpecker population sizes by 99% over the past century. In recent decades, the Department of Defense (DoD) has provided extensive support for Red-cockaded Woodpecker research, monitoring and management on its extensive longleaf-pine (Pinus palustrus) forest holdings. By addressing the hypothesis that genetic structure has not changed over time in local, regional and species-wide assessments of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, this project will provide an updated view of the species over the past 100 years. Researchers will determine the effects that translocations of birds among populations have had on their population genetics and examine the long-term effects of forest fragmentation on changes in genetic differentiation and diversity across the species. Development of population management guidelines for DoD installations will further enhance on the ground conservation efforts for the species now and in the future.

Technical Approach

Researchers will use a multidisciplinary approach that integrates population genetics (i.e., microsatellite markers and mitochondrial DNA sequences), ancient DNA techniques, and landscape ecology in a manner that permits us to better understand the status of Red-cockaded Woodpecker populations, particularly those that have been monitored and managed on DoD land for over three decades. Existing data on translocation histories, individual movement, and habitat loss throughout the southeast will be used to identify factors that have affected Red-cockaded Woodpecker genetics, historically and in modern times.


The outcomes from this project will be an updated assessment of the genetic status of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Researchers will provide refined insights about Red-cockaded Woodpecker populations and the changes that they have experienced over time. These insights will include evaluations of the roles that translocations have had in preserving or enhancing genetic diversity within and among populations and determination of the importance of habitat fragmentation in this system. Researchers also will provide DoD and other biologists guidance to help them evaluate the pros/cons of potential movements of birds (e.g., how many, what sex, to/from what donor/recipient population) among sites in order to maintain the healthiest populations possible.