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Acoustic and camera surveys inform models of current and future vertebrate distributions in a changing desert ecosystem

  • Author(s): Rich, LN;
  • Furnas, BJ;
  • Newton, DS;
  • Brashares, JS
  • et al.

Published Web Location

Aim: Maintaining biodiversity in the face of land use and climate change is a paramount challenge, particularly when distributions of many species remain incompletely known. Emerging technologies help address this data deficiency by facilitating the collection of spatially explicit data for multiple species from multiple taxa. In this study, we combine acoustic and visual sensor surveys to inform conservation and land use planning in an area experiencing rapid climate and land use change. Location: Mojave Desert, California, United States. Methods: We deployed camera traps and acoustic detectors at 210 sites between March and July 2016. We identified photographic detections of mammals and acoustic recordings of songbirds to the species level and used multispecies occupancy models to estimate and evaluate species' occupancy probabilities. We then extrapolated model results to the region and forecasted how projected climate and land use changes might affect species' occupancy probabilities in 50 years. Lastly, we identified areas with high conservation value (i.e., high relative species richness) now and in 50 years, and related the distributions of these areas to land use designations. Results: We detected 15 mammal and 68 songbird species. At the community level, occupancy decreased with increasing temperatures and distances to woodlands. We forecasted that occupancy probabilities and areas with high conservation value would decline in 50 years due to projected increases in maximum temperatures and identified that up to 43%, 24% and 27% of land designated for renewable energy development, recreation and military activities, respectively, encompassed these high value areas. Main conclusions: Cooler areas close to woodlands and water are of high conservation value to mammals and songbirds in the Mojave. These areas will become increasingly limited with changing climate, however, making their protection from human disturbance imperative. We encourage continued use of visual and acoustic sensors across large spatial, temporal and taxonomic scales as tools to inform land use and wildlife conservation.

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