Using GIS to predict potential wildlife habitat: a case study of muskoxen in northern Alaska
With its versatility and potential in addressing ecological issues, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) were used in a study of wildlife habitat prediction. Habitat determination is a complex problem that requires consideration of a wide variety of factors and their relationships. Assessments of habitat for a large area are not viable without a powerful tool. GIS was appropriate in addressing muskox habitat potential in Alaska. Muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus) distribution and habitat selection in northern Alaska remain inadequately documented following their reintroduction. There is increasing pressure to develop oil, gas and mineral resources in northern Alaska, for example in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), an area facing conflict over its management and use. Muskox location data, satellite-based vegetation maps, digital elevation models (DEMs) and terrain data were incorporated into a maximum likelihood classification to produce a muskox habitat model for a region currently occupied by muskoxen. This model was extrapolated to the NPR-A. Resulting predictive maps showed suitable summer habitat in wetter lower-lying areas and suitable winter habitat in higher, drier more rugged areas. Results suggest that suitable muskox habitat is present in the NPR-A and that GIS may be an effective tool for such an analysis.