Using dynamic population simulations to extend resource selection analyses and prioritize habitats for conservation
Cameron L. Aldridge
Michael S. O'Donnell
Tags: Ecological Modelling
Prioritizing habitats for conservation is a challenging task, particularly for species with fluctuating populations and seasonally dynamic habitat needs. Although the use of resource selection models to identify and prioritize habitat for conservation is increasingly common, their ability to characterize important long-term habitats for dynamic populations are variable. To examine how habitats might be prioritized differently if resource selection was directly and dynamically linked with population fluctuations and movement limitations among seasonal habitats, we constructed a spatially explicit individual-based model for a dramatically fluctuating population requiring temporally varying resources. Using greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Wyoming as a case study, we used resource selection function maps to guide seasonal movement and habitat selection, but emergent population dynamics and simulated movement limitations modified long-term habitat occupancy. We compared priority habitats in RSF maps to long-term simulated habitat use. We examined the circumstances under which the explicit consideration of movement limitations, in combination with population fluctuations and trends, are likely to alter predictions of important habitats. In doing so, we assessed the future occupancy of protected areas under alternative population and habitat conditions. Habitat prioritizations based on resource selection models alone predicted high use in isolated parcels of habitat and in areas with low connectivity among seasonal habitats. In contrast, results based on more biologically-informed simulations emphasized central and connected areas near high-density populations, sometimes predicted to be low selection value. Dynamic models of habitat use can provide additional biological realism that can extend, and in some cases, contradict habitat use predictions generated from short-term or static resource selection analyses. The explicit inclusion of population dynamics and movement propensities via spatial simulation modeling frameworks may provide an informative means of predicting long-term habitat use, particularly for fluctuating populations with complex seasonal habitat needs. Importantly, our results indicate the possible need to consider habitat selection models as a starting point rather than the common end point for refining and prioritizing habitats for protection for cyclic and highly variable populations.