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Ecological Cost-Benefit Modelling of Herbivore Habitat Quality Degradation due to Range Fragmentation

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Fragmentation of grazing ranges and ensuing rise in edge effects decrease forage range quality for large herbivores. A method is proposed to quantify, in ecological cost-benefit terms, the negative impact of fragmentation by linear structures with special emphasis on summer ranges of semi-domesticated reindeer (Rangifer t. tarandus). The method is also applicable to other terrestrial species and on different scales. The term ‘reachability’ is introduced for this measurement, which integrates forage quality, quantity and availability, as well as the costs of the animal's movement in a variable landscape and across fragmenting linear structures. The method uses a cost-distance algorithm, commonly available in GIS software. Effective distances and reachability over large areas are calculated from evenly distributed sample points. Effects of varying sample point distance, fragmenting structure friction weight and density, and edge effect depth were analysed for model calibration. In an example the model was used for estimation of reachability alteration due to linear structures in the summer ranges of the Hand√∂lsdalen reindeer herding district in Sweden, where hourly GPS positions of 10 free-ranging female reindeer were available. In these data the reindeer population density appeared to decrease up to 1¬†km away from roads, but no effect from hiking trails was detected. The reachability model quantified a loss of 2.2–2.7% in range quality due to range fragmentation.

Keywords: Rangifer; functional distance; habitat; least-cost modelling; linear structures; range use; resource reachability

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Reindeer Husbandry Unit Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Publication date: October 1, 2007


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