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On Spatial Resolution in Habitat Models: Can Small-scale Forest Structure Explain Capercaillie Numbers?

Ilse Storch, Wildlife Research and Management Unit, Technical University of Munich and Max Pl

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This paper explores the effects of spatial resolution on the performance and applicability of habitat models in wildlife management and conservation. A Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) model for the Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) in the Bavarian Alps, Germany, is presented. The model was exclusively built on non-spatial, small-scale variables of forest structure and without any consideration of landscape patterns. The main goal was to assess whether a HSI model developed from small-scale habitat preferences can explain differences in population abundance at larger scales. To validate the model, habitat variables and indirect sign of Capercaillie use (such as feathers or feces) were mapped in six study areas based on a total of 2901 20 m radius (for habitat variables) and 5 m radius sample plots (for Capercaillie sign). First, the model’s representation of Capercaillie habitat preferences was assessed. Habitat selection, as expressed by Ivlev’s electivity index, was closely related to HSI scores, increased from poor to excellent habitat suitability, and was consistent across all study areas. Then, habitat use was related to HSI scores at different spatial scales. Capercaillie use was best predicted from HSI scores at the small scale. Lowering the spatial resolution of the model stepwise to 36-ha, 100-ha, 400-ha, and 2000-ha areas and relating Capercaillie use to aggregated HSI scores resulted in a deterioration of fit at larger scales. Most importantly, there were pronounced differences in Capercaillie abundance at the scale of study areas, which could not be explained by the HSI model. The results illustrate that even if a habitat model correctly reflects a species’ smaller scale habitat preferences, its potential to predict population abundance at larger scales may remain limited.

Key words

Bavarian Alps, Capercaillie, forest structure, grouse, habitat assessment, habitat preferences, habitat structure and population density, Habitat Suitability Index Model, population density, spatial scale, Tetrao urogallus, wildlife–habitat relationships
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087