Wolverine habitat quality, connectivity, and prioritization at the landscape scale
Carroll, Kathleen Anne
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The core of conservation biology is understanding how to mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic activities on species. These impacts are particularly detrimental to isolated and small populations, which face extirpation or extinction without immediate conservation action. For small and isolated populations, protecting connective habitat (e.g., corridors) and facilitating movement is key. Corridor identification requires rigorous planning and appropriate statistical choices to ensure that resulting conservation actions are defensible and best support ecological processes. This manuscript asks: 1) how do different, commonly used statistical methods inform our understanding of species resource selection across scale and between sexes, 2) how does landscape resistance and connectivity differ between resident and dispersing individuals, and 3) what information is important to include in a systematic conservation plan to best support on-the-ground conservation between land trusts, landowners, and other practitioners under future climate change conditions. To address each of these questions we focused on wolverines (Gulo gulo), which exist as isolated metapopulations across the western contiguous United States. Our key findings included that 1) the importance of habitat variables differ only slightly by sex, across selection scales, and across analysis methods, 2) dispersing animals are less sensitive to habitat quality compared to resident animals, and 3) including information that both helps mitigate potential threats and preserves ecological processes is the best approach for connectivity conservation planning. This work represents the most comprehensive wolverine connectivity conservation analyses to date. This research suggests that examining multiple approaches and validating results is critical to generating rigorous and defensible conservation decisions are being made for wolverines, although more studies are needed to validate this in other species. Taken together, this research provides land managers, policy makers, and scientists with guidance for future connectivity analyses, conservation action for wolverines, and a research framework that can be applied to additional species of conservation concern in isolated populations.