Two scales of habitat selection are likely to influence patterns of animal density in heterogeneous landscapes. At one scale, habitat selection is determined by the differential use of foraging locations within a home range. At a larger scale, habitat selection is determined by dispersal and the ability to relocate the home range. The limits of both scales must be known for accurate assessments of habitat selection and its role in effecting spatial patterns in abundance. Isodars, which specify the relationships between population density in two habitats such that the expected reproductive success of an individual is the same in both, allow us to distinguish the two scales of habitat selection because each scale has different costs. In a two-habitat environment, the cost of rejecting one of the habitats within a home range can be expressed as a devaluation of the other, because, for example, fine-grained foragers must travel through both. At the dispersal scale, the cost of accepting a new home range in a different habitat has the opposite effect of inflating the value of the original habitat to compensate for lost evolutionary potential associated with relocating the home range. These costs produce isodars at the foraging scale with a lower intercept and slope than those at the dispersal scale.
Empirical data on deer mice occupying prairie and badland habitats in southern Alberta confirm the ability of isodar analysis to differentiate between foraging and dispersal scales. The data suggest a foraging range of approximately 60 m, and an effective dispersal distance near 140 m. The relatively short dispersal distance implies that recent theories may have over-emphasized the role of habitat selection on local population dynamics. But the exchange of individuals between habitats sharing irregular borders may be substantial. Dispersal distance may thus give a false impression of the inability of habitat selection to help regulate population density.
costs of habitat selectiondispersalhabitat selectionlandscape ecologypatch choicesmall mammalsspatial scale