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Using occupancy and population models to assess habitat conservation opportunities for an isolated carnivore populationAuthor(s): Wayne Spencer; Heather Rustigian-Romsos; James Strittholt; Robert Scheller; William Zielinski; Richard Truex
Source: Biological Conservation 144(2): 788-803
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
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DescriptionAn 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.
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CitationSpencer, 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
KeywordsCalifornia, Fisher, Generalized additive model (GAM), Habitat model, Martes pennanti, Occupancy model, Population model, PATCH, Sierra Nevada
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