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One size does not fit all: European bison habitat selection across herds and spatial scales

Abstract

Context

Understanding habitat selection can be challenging for species surviving in small populations, but is needed for landscape-scale conservation planning.

Objectives

We assessed how European bison (Bison bonasus) habitat selection, and particularly forest use, varies across subpopulations and spatial scales.

Methods

We gathered the most comprehensive European bison occurrence dataset to date, from five free-ranging herds in Poland. We compared these data to a high-resolution forest map and modelled the influence of environmental and human-pressure variables on habitat selection.

Results

Around 65% of European bison occurrences were in forests, with cows showing a slightly higher forest association than bulls. Forest association did not change markedly across spatial scales, yet differed strongly among herds. Modelling European bison habitat suitability confirmed forest preference, but also showed strong differences in habitat selection among herds. Some herds used open areas heavily and actively selected for them. Similarly, human-pressure variables were important in all herds, but some herds avoided human-dominated areas more than others.

Conclusions

Assessing European bison habitat across multiple herds revealed a more generalist habitat use pattern than when studying individual herds only. Our results highlight that conflicts with land use and people could be substantial if bison are released in human-dominated landscapes. Future restoration efforts should target areas with low road and human population density, regardless of the degree of forest cover. More broadly, our study highlights the importance of considering multiple subpopulations and spatial scales in conservation planning.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M.Tracz (Zachodniopomorskie Towarzystwo Przyrodnicze), A.Bołbot (Białowieski National Park) and the Regional Directorate of State Forests at Krosno for gathering and sharing European bison occurrence data, and S. Drenske for help with data screening for the Supplementary Material. We gratefully acknowledge support for this work by WWF Germany, the Elsa Neumann Scholarship, the European Regional Development Fund, and the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management in Poland. We thank editor Dr. Seagle and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on prior manuscript versions.

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Correspondence to Tobias Kuemmerle.

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Kuemmerle, T., Levers, C., Bleyhl, B. et al. One size does not fit all: European bison habitat selection across herds and spatial scales. Landscape Ecol 33, 1559–1572 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-018-0684-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-018-0684-2

Keywords

  • Habitat restoration
  • Habitat use
  • Landscape fragmentation
  • Land-use change
  • Large herbivores and carnivores
  • Scaling
  • Rewilding