Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus) is a species of conservation concern which breeds in Arctic habitats that are expected to be especially vulnerable to climate change. We used bird presence and habitat data from point-transect surveys conducted at 12 sites across the Brooks Range, Alaska, 2003–2009, to identify breeding areas, describe local habitat associations, and identify suitable habitat using a predictive model of Smith's Longspur distribution. Smith's Longspurs were observed at seven sites, where they were associated with a variety of sedge–shrub habitats composed primarily of mosses, sedges, tussocks, and dwarf shrubs; erect shrubs were common but sparse. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling ordination of ground cover revealed positive associations of Smith's Longspur presence with sedges and mosses and a negative association with high cover of shrubs. To model predicted distribution, we used boosted regression trees to relate landscape variables to occurrence. Our model predicted that Smith's Longspurs may occur in valleys and foothills of the northeastern and southeastern mountains and in upland plateaus of the western mountains, and farther west than currently documented, over a predicted area no larger than 15% of the Brooks Range. With climate change, shrubs are expected to grow larger and denser, while soil moisture and moss cover are predicted to decrease. These changes may reduce Smith's Longspur habitat quality and limit distribution in the Brooks Range to poorly drained lowlands and alpine plateaus where sedge–shrub tundra is likely to persist. Conversely, northward advance of shrubs into sedge tundra may create suitable habitat, thus supporting a northward longspur distribution shift.
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Vol. 117 • No. 1