Predicting above-ground density and distribution of small mammal prey species at large spatial scales
by Lucretia E. Olson, John R. Squires, Robert J. Oakleaf, Zachary P. Wallace, Patricia L. KennedyGrassland and shrub-steppe ecosystems are increasingly threatened by anthropogenic activities. Loss of native habitats may negatively impact important small mammal prey species. Little information, however, is available on the impact of habitat variability on density of small mammal prey species at broad spatial scales. We examined the relationship between small mammal density and remotely-sensed environmental covariates in shrub-steppe and grassland ecosystems in Wyoming, USA. We sampled four sciurid and leporid species groups using line transect methods, and used hierarchical distance-sampling to model density in response to variation in vegetation, climate, topographic, and anthropogenic variables, while accounting for variation in detection probability. We created spatial predictions of each species’ density and distribution. Sciurid and leporid species exhibited mixed responses to vegetation, such that changes to native habitat will likely affect prey species differently. Density of white-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus), Wyoming ground squirrels (Urocitellus elegans), and leporids correlated negatively with proportion of shrub or sagebrush cover and positively with herbaceous cover or bare ground, whereas least chipmunks showed a positive correlation with shrub cover and a negative correlation with herbaceous cover. Spatial predictions from our models provide a landscape-scale metric of above-ground prey density, which will facilitate the development of conservation plans for these taxa and their predators at spatial scales relevant to management.
Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article
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