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Scale-dependent drivers of ungulate patch use along a temporal and spatial gradient of snow depth

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Anthropogenic changes in landscape composition or configuration have the potential to increase the abundance of generalist species, often resulting in cascading effects on other trophic levels and ecosystem function. The selection or utilization of individual patches of habitat, however, may vary in both time and space, as a result of patch and landscape attributes as well as dynamic abiotic factors (i.e., snowfall). We hypothesized that the use of high-quality habitat would be most strongly influenced by snow at local scales and by composition and the configuration of the landscape at greater spatial scales. To test this, we examined white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus (Zimmermann, 1780)) selection of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carrière) patches as winter habitat over a 3-year period. Patch-level attributes were poor predictors of patch use in areas with strong gradients in abiotic factors relevant to the energetics of movement or forage acquisition. Additionally, heterogeneity in the greater landscape (3000 m radius buffer) served to increase use, while homogeneity appeared to decrease use. Our results suggest that interactions between deer migratory behavior, interannual variation in winter severity, and landscape context might provide spatial and temporal refugia for hemlock regeneration; a better understanding of which could aide conservation and restoration.

Keywords: FRAGSTATS; Upper Peninsula of Michigan; cerf de Virginie (Odocoileus virginianus); couverture hivernale; eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis); generalized linear model; habitat selection; modèle linéaire généralisé; pruche du Canada (Tsuga canadensis); péninsule nord du Michigan; sélection d’habitat; white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus); winter cover

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Michigan Technological University, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931, USA. 2: Mathematical Sciences, Michigan Technological University, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931, USA.

Publication date: August 11, 2012

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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