Canadian Forest Service Publications

A framework for modeling habitat quality in disturbance-prone areas demonstrated with woodland caribou and wildfire. 2017. Whitman, E.; Parisien, M.-A.; Price, D.T.; St-Laurent, M.-H.; Johnson, C.J.; DeLancey, E.R.; Arsenault, D.; Flannigan, M.D. Ecosphere 8(4):e01787.

Year: 2017

Available from: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 38252

Language: English

CFS Availability: PDF (download)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1787

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Abstract

Natural resource management professionals require adaptable spatial tools for conserving and managing wildlife across landscapes. These tools should integrate multiple components of habitat quality and incorporate local disturbance regimes. We provide a spatial modeling framework that integrates three components of habitat (nutritional resources, connectivity, and predation risk) into indices of habitat quality under a simulated wildfire disturbance regime. Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), a species of conservation concern, is used to illustrate our framework. We simulated disturbance from wildfire on two boreal forest landscapes to produce stand ages, from which we computed and integrated the three habitat indicator components using different schemes. Spatial variation in the influence of wildfire and the distribution of the three components of habitat resulted in heterogeneous patterns of habitat quality. The inclusion of disturbance led to a different habitat quality landscape than that of a static model in which the influence of wildfire on vegetation communities was not considered, incorporating the likelihood of persistence into the overall representation of habitat quality. The integration of nutrition, connectivity, and predation risk into a single index of habitat quality produced spatial patterns distinct from maps of the individual components. Regardless of whether the components were combined through additive, multiplicative, or minimum habitat quality threshold methods, areas of very high- and poor-quality habitat were found at consistent locations across the landscape, suggesting that these two types of regions provide opportunities for long-term management interventions. The framework presented here is adaptable and modular; it could be modified and applied to other species, regions, and disturbance regimes. It provides a nuanced representation of persistent habitat and has the potential to be a useful tool for conservation planning.

Plain Language Summary

Natural resource managers need adaptable tools for conserving and managing wildlife across landscapes. These tools should use many elements of habitat quality and include natural disturbance, such as large wildfires. We provide a framework that combines three elements of habitat (nutrition, ability to move across the landscape, and predation risk) into a single measure of habitat quality. In this framework, we add the effect of large wildfires, which can dramatically alter the three elements of habitat. Woodland caribou, a species of concern in conservation, is used to illustrate our framework, which we applied to two boreal forest landscapes (one in Alberta and one in Québec). Results showed that patterns of habitat quality were not uniform across the landscape, with some areas being highly suitable for caribou and others being unsuitable. The inclusion of wildfire in this model likely improved the framework by accounting for the potential loss of suitable habitat. The combination of nutrition, ability to move across the landscape, and predation risk into a single measure of habitat quality produced patterns distinct from maps of the individual elements. Regardless of how the three elements were combined to calculate the final habitat suitability measure, areas of very high- and poor-quality habitat were found at consistent locations across the landscape, which provided opportunities for long-term management actions. The framework presented here has the potential to be a useful tool for conservation planning and, furthermore, could be modified and applied to other species, regions, and disturbance regimes ( such as insect outbreaks, floods, and droughts).

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