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Scale-specific landscape effects impose range-limiting constraints on the distribution of a prairie-obligate carnivore

Abstract

Context

Human-modified landscapes can structure species’ distributions and supplant traditional biotic range-limiting processes. Understanding the direction and scale of these processes is necessary to enhance species conservation efforts.

Objectives

We investigated how the distribution of a prairie-obligate carnivore, swift fox (Vulpes velox), is influenced by landscape pattern at the eastern edge of their used range. We also assessed the effects of a popular conservation effort, the conservation reserve program (CRP), on swift fox distributions.

Methods

We used three years of detection/non-detection data (2018–2020) from camera traps at 381 sites to evaluate the spatial distribution of swift foxes at the eastern edge of their extant range in Kansas, USA. We used Gaussian Kernel functions to identify optimal scales of effect for measured landscape covariates and multiseason use models to reveal potential range-limiting constraints.

Results

Swift foxes were more likely to occur at sites with moderate landcover diversity within 254.47 ha, greater proportion of shortgrass prairie (7.07 ha) and loamy soil types (0.79 ha), and lower proportions of CRP landcover (78.54 ha). Swift foxes were more likely to colonize sites with less diverse landcover, a greater proportion of loamy soil types, and lower proportions of CRP landcover. Swift foxes were insensitive to the proportion of row-crop agriculture surrounding sites (3.14 ha).

Conclusions

Loamy soils and distribution of shortgrass prairie ecosystems may shape the periphery of the distribution for swift foxes. Landscape-scale use of CRP may constrain swift fox distributions at their range edge because managed vegetation structure of CRP does not mimic native shortgrass prairie.

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Data availability

The data and code used for this the study will be available in Dryad once this manuscript is accepted for publication.

Code availability

The codes used during the study are available from the corresponding author (TJW) with a reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

Financial support was provided by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (U.S. Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Fund—W-99R-1) and Kansas State University. We thank Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, The Nature Conservancy, and private landowners who graciously provided support and property access. Without the cooperation of private landowners, this project would not have been possible. We thank W. Boomhower, T. Folk, M. Larreur, A. Lee, G. Long, C. Ties, K. Wait, and C. Werdel for their assistance with securing landowner permissions and data collection. We thank M. Kern for assistance with data analyses in R. We thank J. Gehrt, N. Parker, E. Teige, and B. Verheijen for comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. We also thank USGS Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Dave Haukos for providing housing.

Funding

Financial support was provided by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (U.S. Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Fund—W-99R-1) and Kansas State University.

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Contributions

TJW, AAA, AMR, MMP conceived and designed the study; TJW and CWP conducted field data collection; TJW conducted data analyses; TJW wrote earlier versions of the manuscript and all authors (TJW, AAA, AMR, CWP, MMP) contributed to the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ty J. Werdel.

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Ethical approval

The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee for Kansas State University (IACUC Protocol Number: 4074) approved all protocols used for this study. Access to private property, when needed, was done so with landowner permission. No threatened or protected species were involved in this research.

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Werdel, T.J., Piper, C.W., Ricketts, A.M. et al. Scale-specific landscape effects impose range-limiting constraints on the distribution of a prairie-obligate carnivore. Landsc Ecol 37, 2065–2079 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-022-01466-0

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Keywords

  • Conservation Reserve Program
  • Landscape composition
  • Scale of effect
  • Swift fox
  • Vulpes velox