Landscape Ecology

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 1161–1175 | Cite as

Multi-scale habitat selection modeling: a review and outlook

  • Kevin McGarigal
  • Ho Yi Wan
  • Kathy A. Zeller
  • Brad C. Timm
  • Samuel A. Cushman
Research Article



Scale is the lens that focuses ecological relationships. Organisms select habitat at multiple hierarchical levels and at different spatial and/or temporal scales within each level. Failure to properly address scale dependence can result in incorrect inferences in multi-scale habitat selection modeling studies.


Our goals in this review are to describe the conceptual origins of multi-scale habitat selection modeling, evaluate the current state-of-the-science, and suggest ways forward to improve analysis of scale-dependent habitat selection.


We reviewed more than 800 papers on habitat selection from 23 major ecological journals published between 2009 and 2014 and recorded a number of characteristics, such as whether they addressed habitat selection at multiple scales, what attributes of scale were evaluated, and what analytical methods were utilized.


Our results show that despite widespread recognition of the importance of multi-scale analyses of habitat relationships, a large majority of published habitat ecology papers do not address multiple spatial or temporal scales. We also found that scale optimization, which is critical to assess scale dependence, is done in less than 5 % of all habitat selection modeling papers and less than 25 % of papers that address “multi-scale” habitat analysis broadly defined.


Our review confirms the existence of a powerful conceptual foundation for multi-scale habitat selection modeling, but that the majority of studies on wildlife habitat are still not adopting multi-scale frameworks. Most importantly, our review points to the need for wider adoption of a formal scale optimization of organism response to environmental variables.


Scale Habitat Habitat selection Resource selection Resource selection function Wildlife habitat relationships Species–environment relationships 



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0907995 (Zeller) and the Joint Fire Sciences Project # 12-1-06-56 (Wan, Timm, McGarigal, and Cushman). This manuscript was also improved by the suggestions of several anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

10980_2016_374_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (174 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLSX 174 kb)
10980_2016_374_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (177 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 178 kb)
10980_2016_374_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (528 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 528 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin McGarigal
    • 1
  • Ho Yi Wan
    • 2
  • Kathy A. Zeller
    • 1
  • Brad C. Timm
    • 1
  • Samuel A. Cushman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Environmental ConservationUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA
  2. 2.School of Earth Sciences and Environmental SustainabilityNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research StationFlagstaffUSA

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