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Relating mesocarnivore relative abundance to anthropogenic land-use with a hierarchical spatial count model

Crimmins, S. R., L. Walleser, D. Hertel, P. McKann, J. J. Rohweder, and W. E. Thogmartin.  2015. Relating mesocarnivore relative abundance to anthropogenic land-use with a hierarchical spatial count model. Ecography, Early Online, 10.1111/ecog.01179.


There is growing need to develop models of spatial patterns in animal abundance, yet comparatively few examples of such models exist. This is especially true in situations where the abundance of one species may inhibit that of another, such as the intensively-farmed landscape of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the central United States, where waterfowl production is largely constrained by mesocarnivore nest predation. We used a hierarchical Bayesian approach to relate the distribution of various land-cover types to the relative abundances of four mesocarnivores in the PPR: coyote (Canis latrans), raccoon (Procyon lotor), red fox (Vulpes vulpes), and striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis). We developed models for each species at multiple spatial resolutions (41.4 km2, 10.4 km2, and 2.6 km2) to address different ecological and management-related questions. Model results for each species were similar irrespective of resolution. We found that the amount of row-crop agriculture was nearly ubiquitous in our best models, exhibiting a positive relationship with relative abundance for each species. The amount of native grassland land-cover was positively associated with coyote and raccoon relative abundance, but generally absent from models for red fox and skunk. Red fox and skunk were positively associated with each other, suggesting potential niche overlap. We found no evidence that coyote abundance limited that of other mesocarnivore species, as might be expected under a hypothesis of mesopredator release. The relationships between relative abundance and land-cover types were similar across spatial resolutions. Our results indicated that mesocarnivores in the PPR are most likely to occur in portions of the landscape with large amounts of agricultural land-cover. Further, our results indicated that track-survey data can be used in a hierarchical framework to gain inferences regarding spatial patterns in animal relative abundance.


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