Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Using occupancy and population models to assess habitat conservation opportunities for an isolated carnivore population


Wayne Spencer
Heather Rustigian-Romsos
James Strittholt
Robert Scheller
Richard Truex



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Southwest Research Station


Biological Conservation 144(2): 788-803


An isolated population of the fisher (Martes pennanti) in the southern Sierra Nevada, California, is threatened by small size and habitat alteration from wildfires, fuels management, and other factors. We assessed the population’s status and conservation options for its habitat using a spatially explicit population model coupled with a fisher probability of occurrence model. The fisher occurrence model was selected from a family of generalized additive models (GAM) generated using numerous environmental variables and fisher detection–nondetection data collected at 228 survey arrays sampled repeatedly during 2002–2006. The selected GAM accounted for 69% of the Akaike weight using total above-ground biomass of trees, latitude-adjusted elevation, and annual precipitation averaged over a 5 km2 moving window. We estimated equilibrium population sizes (or carrying capacities) within currently occupied areas, and identified likely population source, sink, and expansion areas, by simulating population processes for 20 years using different demographic rates, dispersal distances, and territory sizes. The population model assumed that demographic parameters of fishers scale in proportion to habitat quality as indexed by the calculated probability of fisher occurrence. Based on the most defensible range of parameter values, we estimate fisher carrying capacity at ~125–250 adults in currently occupied areas. Population expansion into potential habitat in and north of Yosemite National Park has potential to increase population size, but this potential for expansion is predicted to be highly sensitive to mortality rates, which may be elevated in the northern portion of the occupied range by human influences, including roadkill and diseases carried by domestic cats and dogs.


Spencer, Wayne; Rustigian-Romsos, Heather; Strittholt, James; Scheller, Robert; Zielinski, William; Truex, Richard. 2011. Using occupancy and population models to assess habitat conservation opportunities for an isolated carnivore population. Biological Conservation 144(2): 788-803


Publication Notes

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.