, Volume 26, Issue 8, pp 1137-1149
Date: 27 Aug 2011

Limiting factors and landscape connectivity: the American marten in the Rocky Mountains

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In mobile animals, movement behavior can maximize fitness by optimizing access to critical resources and minimizing risk of predation. We sought to evaluate several hypotheses regarding the effects of landscape structure on American marten foraging path selection in a landscape experiencing forest perforation by patchcut logging. We hypothesized that in the uncut pre-treatment landscape marten would choose foraging paths to maximize access to cover types that support the highest density of prey. In contrast, in the post-treatment landscapes we hypothesized marten would choose paths primarily to avoid crossing openings, and that this would limit their ability to optimally select paths to maximize foraging success. Our limiting factor analysis shows that different resistant models may be supported under changing landscape conditions due to threshold effects, even when a species’ response to landscape variables is constant. Our results support previous work showing forest harvest strongly affects marten movement behavior. The most important result of our study, however, is that the influence of these features changes dramatically depending on the degree to which timber harvest limits available movement paths. Marten choose foraging paths in uncut landscapes to maximize time spent in cover types providing the highest density of prey species. In contrast, following landscape perforation by patchcuts, marten strongly select paths to avoid crossing unforested areas. This strong response to patch cutting reduces their ability to optimize foraging paths to vegetation type. Marten likely avoid non-forested areas in fragmented landscapes to reduce risk of predation and to benefit thermoregulation in winter, but in doing so they may suffer a secondary cost of decreased foraging efficiency.