Spatial and temporal dynamics of habitat availability and stability for a critically endangered arboreal marsupial: implications for conservation planning in a fire-prone landscape

Abstract

Context

Effective conservation planning for species depends on vegetation models that can capture the dynamics of habitat elements across both spatial and temporal domains. Incorporating these dynamics at landscape scales is essential for understanding the impact of natural disturbance, management, and climate change on habitat availability and stability on fauna.

Objectives

To explore the impact of resource availability, wildfire, forest management (timber harvesting and planned burning), and climate change on the habitat of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum (LBP; Gymnobelideus leadbeateri McCoy) with the goal of understanding the importance of these factors on future habitat availability.

Methods

We used a spatially explicit landscape-simulation model, LANDIS-II, linked to habitat suitability and patch modelling, to identify quantity, configuration, and temporal stability of habitat for LBP. We used boosted regression trees and general additive modelling to explore the importance of management and disturbance factors on future LBP habitat availability.

Results

Wildfire was the main factor determining all habitat components for LBP, both alone and in interaction with climate change and forest management. We identified stable habitat patches that will likely persist under future conditions, and that might be prioritised for conservation in a dynamic landscape.

Conclusions

We highlight how the current reserve network could be augmented to improve the future conservation status of LBP. Our approach provides conservation planners with a spatially and temporally explicit framework for incorporating the key dynamic processes that are typically omitted in conservation planning.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC), Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and VicForests through an ARC Linkage Project (LP140100580). C.R. Nitschke and L.T. Bennett were also funded by the Victorian DELWP iFER (Integrated Forest Ecosystem Research) program. P.J. Baker was also supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT120100751). The authors are also grateful to VicForests and DELWP for providing parameters for the management scenarios. We would like to thank Professor David Lindenmayer for his review of the manuscript. Revisions based on his comments have improved this manuscript.

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Nitschke, C.R., Trouvé, R., Lumsden, L.F. et al. Spatial and temporal dynamics of habitat availability and stability for a critically endangered arboreal marsupial: implications for conservation planning in a fire-prone landscape. Landscape Ecol 35, 1553–1570 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-020-01036-2

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Keywords

  • Leadbeater’s possum
  • Gymnobelideus leadbeateri
  • Conservation planning
  • Climate change
  • Fire
  • Timber harvesting
  • Planned burning