The importance of spatial scale in habitat selection by European beaver
We evaluated habitat selection by European beaver Castor fiber L. across a spatial gradient from local (within the family territory) to a broad, ecoregional scale. Based on aerial photography, we assessed the habitat composition of 150 beaver territories along the main water bodies of the Vistula River delta (northern Poland) and compared these data with 183 randomly selected sites not occupied by the species. The beavers preferred habitats with high availability of woody plants, including shrubs, and avoided anthropogenically modified habitats, such as arable lands. Within a single family territory, we observed decreasing woody plant cover with increasing distance from a colony centre, which suggests that beaver habitat preferences depend on the assessment of both the abundance and spatial distribution of preferred habitat elements. We tested the importance of spatial scale in beaver habitat selection with principal coordinates of neighbour matrices analysis, which showed that the geographical scale explained 46.7% of the variation in habitat composition, while the local beaver density explained only 10.3% of this variability. We found two main spatial gradients that were related to the broad spatial scale: first, the most important gradient was related to the largest distances between beaver sites and was independent of woody plant cover and the local beaver site density. The second most important gradient appeared more locally and was associated with these variables. Our results indicate that European beaver habitat selection was affected by different scale‐related phenomena related 1) to central place foraging behaviour, which resulted in the clumped distribution of woody plants within the territory, and 2) local population density and woody plant cover. Finally, 3) habitat selection occurs independently across the largest spatial scale studied (e.g. between watersheds), which was probably due to the limited natal dispersal range of the animals.
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