, Volume 170, Issue 4, pp 965-977

Linking trade-offs in habitat selection with the occurrence of functional responses for moose living in two nearby study areas

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A species may modify its relative habitat use with changing availability, generating functional responses in habitat selection. Functional responses in habitat selection are expected to occur when animals experience trade-offs influencing their habitat selection, but only a few studies to date have explicitly linked functional responses to the underlying trade-offs faced by the animals. We used data from 39 female moose fitted with GPS telemetry collars in two nearby study areas in Canada to investigate if moose (1) were faced with a food/cover trade-off in habitat selection, as typically acknowledged in the literature, and (2) showed a functional response in their use of food/cover-rich habitats. We also examined how habitat selection patterns varied seasonally, and between study areas. The occurrence of functional responses varied strongly between study areas, and could not always be related to a measurable food/cover trade-off. Functional responses were observed more often in the study area where the environmental conditions were more severe (colder temperatures, higher precipitations, and lower food availability). Selection coefficients were also less variable among individuals in that study area, suggesting that severe environmental conditions may constrain individuals to a few selection tactics and promote the development of functional responses. Moose reacted to the availability of different habitat types in different seasons, reflecting the changing trade-offs faced by the animals. We found considerable behavioral differences between individuals from two adjacent study areas, and therefore recommend caution when extrapolating habitat selection results. We advocate for the wider use of functional responses to identify critical habitats for a species from a management or conservation perspective.

Communicated by Jean-Michel Gaillard.