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Estimating landscape resistance from habitat suitability: effects of data source and nonlinearities

Abstract

Context

Conservation corridors must facilitate long-distance dispersal movements to promote gene flow, prevent inbreeding, and allow animals to shift ranges with climate change. Least-cost models are used to identify areas that support long-distance movement. These models rely on estimates of landscape resistance, which are typically derived from habitat suitability.

Objectives

We examine two key steps in estimating resistance from habitat suitability: choosing a procedure to estimate habitat suitability, and choosing a transformation function to translate habitat suitability into resistance.

Methods

We used linear and nonlinear functions to convert three types of habitat suitability estimates (from expert opinion, resource selection functions, and step selection functions) into resistances for elk (Cervus canadensis) and desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). We evaluated the resulting resistance maps on an independent set of observed long-distance, prospecting movements.

Results

A negative exponential function best described the relationship between resistance values and habitat suitability for desert bighorn sheep indicating long-distance movers readily travel through moderately-suitable areas and avoid only the least suitable habitat. For desert bighorn sheep, all three suitability estimates performed better than chance, and resource and step selection functions outperformed expert opinion. For elk, all three suitability estimates performed the same as chance.

Conclusions

When designing corridors to facilitate long-distance movements of mobile animals, we recommend transforming habitat suitability into resistance with a negative exponential function. Use of an exponential transformation means that larger fractions of the landscape offer low resistance, allowing greater flexibility in where a corridor is located.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Ester Rubin, AZGFD, for arranging use of data, Christopher Coffey for computer cluster support, Jeff Jenness for ArcGIS support, and Kathy Zeller for advice on the analyses. NAU School of Forestry, McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program, Arizona Board of Forestry, and the Hafen, Krimminger, Prather, Czak, Berry, and Forestry Faculty scholarships at Northern Arizona University supported A.T.H.K. during this work. Sam Cushman, Carol Chambers, and two anonymous reviewers helped to significantly improve the manuscript. Ungulate data were collected by AZGFD with funding from Wildlife Restoration Act, Special Big Game License Tag Funds raised by the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, Arizona Elk Society, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Arizona Antelope Foundation, and Arizona Big Game Super Raffle.

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Correspondence to Annika T. H. Keeley.

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Keeley, A.T.H., Beier, P. & Gagnon, J.W. Estimating landscape resistance from habitat suitability: effects of data source and nonlinearities. Landscape Ecol 31, 2151–2162 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0387-5

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Keywords

  • Cervus canadensis
  • Desert bighorn sheep
  • Elk
  • Expert opinion
  • Exploratory movements
  • Least-cost models
  • Ovis canadensis
  • Resource selection function
  • Step selection function
  • Wildlife corridors