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A multi-scale distribution model for non-equilibrium populations suggests resource limitation in an endangered rodent.

  • Author(s): Bean, William T;
  • Stafford, Robert;
  • Butterfield, H Scott;
  • Brashares, Justin S
  • Editor(s): Romanach, Stephanie S
  • et al.

Species distributions are known to be limited by biotic and abiotic factors at multiple temporal and spatial scales. Species distribution models, however, frequently assume a population at equilibrium in both time and space. Studies of habitat selection have repeatedly shown the difficulty of estimating resource selection if the scale or extent of analysis is incorrect. Here, we present a multi-step approach to estimate the realized and potential distribution of the endangered giant kangaroo rat. First, we estimate the potential distribution by modeling suitability at a range-wide scale using static bioclimatic variables. We then examine annual changes in extent at a population-level. We define "available" habitat based on the total suitable potential distribution at the range-wide scale. Then, within the available habitat, model changes in population extent driven by multiple measures of resource availability. By modeling distributions for a population with robust estimates of population extent through time, and ecologically relevant predictor variables, we improved the predictive ability of SDMs, as well as revealed an unanticipated relationship between population extent and precipitation at multiple scales. At a range-wide scale, the best model indicated the giant kangaroo rat was limited to areas that received little to no precipitation in the summer months. In contrast, the best model for shorter time scales showed a positive relation with resource abundance, driven by precipitation, in the current and previous year. These results suggest that the distribution of the giant kangaroo rat was limited to the wettest parts of the drier areas within the study region. This multi-step approach reinforces the differing relationship species may have with environmental variables at different scales, provides a novel method for defining "available" habitat in habitat selection studies, and suggests a way to create distribution models at spatial and temporal scales relevant to theoretical and applied ecologists.

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