Understanding and predicting habitat for wildlife conservation: the case of Canada lynx at the range periphery
Holbrook, Joseph D.
Squires, John R.
Olson, Lucretia E.
DeCesare, Nicholas J.
Lawrence, Rick L.
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Ecologists and managers are motivated to predict the distribution of animals across landscapes as well as understand the mechanisms giving rise to that distribution. Satisfying this motivation requires an integrated framework that characterizes multi-scale habitat use and selection, as well as builds predictive models such as resource selection functions. However, the assumption of constant habitat use or selection is often made in such analyses, which ignores the possibility that individuals experiencing different conditions might respond differently. Assessing functional responses in habitat use evaluates how animal behavior changes with differing environmental conditions, which has basic and applied utility. Here, we combined these ideas into an integrated process that characterizes habitat relationships, predicts habitat, and assesses behavioral differences with changing environmental conditions. Our species of interest was Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in the Northern Rocky Mountains, which is a rare and federally threatened forest carnivore. Through our process, we developed multi-scale predictions of lynx distribution and learned that across scales and seasons, lynx use more mature, spruce-fir forests than any other structure stage or species. Intermediate snow depths and the distribution of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) were the strongest predictors of where lynx selected their home ranges. Within their home ranges, female and male lynx increasingly used advanced regeneration forest structures as they became more available (up to a maximum availability of 40%). These patterns supported the bottom-up mechanisms regulating Canada lynx in that advanced regeneration generally provides the most abundant snowshoe hares, while mature forest is where lynx appear to hunt efficiently. However, lynx exhibited decreasing use of stand initiation structures (up to a maximum availability of 25%). Land managers have an opportunity to promote lynx habitat in the form of advanced regeneration, but are required to go through the stand initiation phase. Thus, managers can apply the relative proportions of forest structure classes along with our response curves to inform landscape actions (e.g., timber harvest) targeted at facilitating the forest mosaic used and selected by Canada lynx. Collectively, the insights gleaned from our approach advance habitat conservation efforts and consequently are of broad utility to applied ecologists and managers.
Holbrook, Joseph D. , John R. Squires, Lucretia E. Olson, Nicholas J. DeCesare, and Rick L. Lawrence. "Understanding and predicting habitat for wildlife conservation: the case of Canada lynx at the range periphery." Ecosphere 8, no. 9 (September 2017). DOI:https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1939.