, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 761-773
Date: 28 Feb 2012

Functional connectivity of lynx at their southern range periphery in Ontario, Canada

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Abstract

Peripheral populations are often small and isolated compared to those in the range core, in part due to the patchy distribution of suitable habitats at range margins. It follows that peripheral populations typically occur at lower densities and are more susceptible to extinction, but their persistence may be facilitated through connectivity with core areas. Relationships between connectivity and the distribution of animal populations have not yet been fully evaluated, especially for large carnivores having extensive spatial needs and specialized habitat requirements. Using observations of snow tracks, we modeled occurrence of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in relation to landscape characteristics along their southern range periphery in Ontario, Canada; we sought to assess functional connectivity of lynx habitat along the southern margins of the range. As observed in other studies, young coniferous forests had the highest probability of lynx occurrence, likely due to their association with snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus). We used the occurrence model to parameterize a resistance surface and then circuit theory to predict functional connectivity along the southern periphery of lynx distribution. Lynx typically travelled through landscapes with higher connectivity than random paths, implying that lynx habitat requirements in their southern range likely extend beyond habitat composition, and that conservation efforts should seek to preserve metapopulation dynamics through functional connectivity of suitable habitat across larger spatial scales.