, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 775-790

The spatial pattern of demographic performance as a component of sustainable landscape management and planning

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Abstract

Prioritizing habitat for animal conservation in heterogeneous landscapes requires an understanding of where animal occurrence coincides with human influences on demographic performance. We related broad-scale patterns of occurrence with risk of mortality among female Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus) in a human-modified landscape to develop a spatially-explicit framework for animal conservation at the landscape level. Variability in the spatial pattern of elk occurrence was driven by preference for specific habitat types as well as responses to human activity. In contrast, risk of mortality was a function of human modification of the landscape with little variation explained by habitat. Proximity to industrial development was associated with increased risk of mortality whereas proximity to residences and agricultural structures was associated with decreased risk. Individual-level results revealed added complexity, whereby risk of mortality was associated with a consistent pattern of occurrence relative to industrial development, yet the association between risk and occurrence relative to structures was highly variable and likely a function of disparate land-use priorities. Approaches to managing human-mediated risk at the landscape level are most effective when they decompose human activity into constituent parts influencing risk, and when individual variation relative to the population response is investigated. Conservation interventions need to target factors that have a consistent influence across the population rather than risk uncertainty that would arise from targeting factors that influence individuals in variable or situation-specific ways. The spatial tools developed herein provide guidance for sustainable landscape planning in the study area, while the concept of linking occurrence and demographic performance within a hierarchical modeling framework has general application for animal conservation in landscapes subject to change, human-caused or otherwise.