Failed despots and the equitable distribution of fitness in a subsidized species

Territorial species are often predicted to adhere to an ideal despotic distribution and under-match local food resources, meaning that individuals in high-quality habitat achieve higher fitness than those in low-quality habitat. However, conditions such as high density, territory compression, and frequent territorial disputes in high-quality habitat are expected to cause habitat quality to decline as population density increases and, instead, promote resource matching. We studied a highly human-subsidized and under-matched population of Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) to determine how under-matching is maintained despite high densities, compressed territories, and frequent agonistic behaviors, which should promote resource matching. We examined the distribution of fitness among individuals in high-quality, subsidized habitat, by categorizing jays into dominance classes and characterizing individual consumption of human food, body condition, fecundity, and core area size and spatial distribution. Individuals of all dominance classes consumed similar amounts of human food and had similar body condition and fecundity. However, the most dominant individuals maintained smaller core areas that had greater overlap with subsidized habitat than those of subordinates. Thus, we found that (1) jays attain high densities in subsidized areas because dominant individuals do not exclude subordinates from human food subsidies and (2) jay densities do not reach the level necessary to facilitate resource matching because dominant individuals monopolize space in subsidized areas. Our results suggest that human-modified landscapes may decouple dominance from fitness and that incomplete exclusion of subordinates may be a common mechanism underpinning high densities and creating source populations of synanthropic species in subsidized environments.

File: Brunk-et-al_2022_Failed-despots-and-the-aquitable-distribution-of-fitness-in-a-subsidized-species.pdf

One Hundred Fifty Years of Change in Forest Bird Breeding Habitat: Estimates of Species Distributions

Evaluating bird population trends requires baseline data. In North America the earliest population data available are those from the late 1960s. Forest conditions in the northern Great Lake states (U.S.A.), however, have undergone succession since the region was originally cut over around the turn of the twentieth century, and it is expected that bird populations have undergone concomitant change. We propose pre-Euro- American settlement as an alternative baseline for assessing changes in bird populations. We evaluated the amount, quality, and distribution of breeding bird habitat during the mid-1800s and early 1990s for three forest birds: the Pine Warbler ( Dendroica pinus), Blackburnian Warbler ( D. fusca), and Black-throated Green Warbler ( D. virens). We constructed models of bird and habitat relationships based on literature review and regional data sets of bird abundance and applied these models to widely available vegetation data. Original public-land survey records represented historical habitat conditions, and a combination of forest inventory and national land-cover data represented current conditions. We assessed model robustness by comparing current habitat distribution to actual breeding bird locations from the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas. The model showed little change in the overall amount of Pine Warbler habitat, whereas both the Blackburnian Warber and the Black-throated Green Warbler have experienced substantial habitat losses. For the species we examined, habitat quality has degraded since presettlement and the spatial distribution of habitat shifted among ecoregions, with range expansion accompanying forest incursion into previously open habitats or the replacement of native forests with pine plantations. Sources of habitat loss and degradation include loss of conifers and loss of large trees. Using widely available data sources in a habitat suitability model framework, our method provides a long-term analysis of change in bird habitat and a presettlement baseline for assessing current conservation priority.

File: Schulte-et-al.-2005-ConsBiology.pdf

Early warning sign of forest loss in protected areas

As humanity is facing the double challenge of species extinctions and climate change, designating parts of forests as protected areas is a key conservation strategy.1–4 Protected areas, encompassing 14.9% of the Earth’s land surface and 19% of global forests, can prevent forest loss but do not do so perfectly everywhere. 5–12 The reasons why protection only works in some areas are difficult to generalize: older and newer parks, protected areas with higher and lower suitability for agriculture, and more and less strict protection can be more effective at preventing forest loss than their counterparts.6,8,9,12–16 Yet predicting future forest loss within protected areas is crucial to proactive conservation. Here, we identify an early warning sign of subsequent forest loss, based on forest loss patterns in strict protected areas and their surrounding landscape worldwide, from 2000 to 2018.17,18 We found that a low level in the absolute forest cover immediately outside of a protected area signals a high risk of future forest loss inside the protected area itself. When the amount of forest left outside drops to <20%, the protected area is likely to experience rates of forest loss matching those in the wider landscape, regardless of its protection status (e.g., 5% loss outside will be matched by 5% loss inside). This knowledge could be used to direct funding to protected areas threatened by imminent forest loss, helping to proactively bolster protection to prevent forest loss, especially in countries where detailed information is lacking.

File: mmc3.pdf

Habitat connectivity for endangered Indochinese tigers in Thailand

Habitat connectivity is crucial for the conservation of species restricted to fragmented populations within human-dominated landscapes. However, identifying habitat connectivity for apex predators is challenging because trophic interactions between primary productivity and prey species influence both the distribution of habitats, and predator movement. Our goal was to assess habitat connectivity for Indochinese tigers (Panthera tigris) in Thailand. We quantified suitable habitat and dispersal corridors based an ensemble species distribution model that included prey distributions, primary productivity, and abiotic variables and was based on camera-trap data from 1996 to 2013 in 15 protected areas. We employed graph theory to evaluate the relative importance of habitat patches and dispersal corridors to the overall connectivity network. We found that tiger occurrence models with and without prey distributions performed well (Area Under the Curve: 0.932–0.954). However, inclusion of prey distributions significantly improved model performance (P < 0.001). Protected areas with tigers at the time of our surveys were highly isolated with high resistance to movement within the dispersal corridors, and four of them have lost their tiger populations since. Potential habitat patches outside of protected areas were also mostly isolated, but it was encouraging to find that there is ample potential habitat that tigers are not occupying. The Huai Kha Kaeng - ThungYai habitat patch and Kaeng Krachan dispersal corridor were the most important for overall habitat connectivity. Generally, integrating prey distributions into assessments of connectivity is a promising approach that can be widely applied to predict species occurrence and delineate dispersal corridors, thereby supporting conservation planning of tigers and other large carnivores.

File: 1-s2.0-S2351989421002687-main.pdf

National Parks influence habitat use of lowland tapirs in adjacent private lands in the Southern Yungas of Argentina

Protected areas are cornerstones of conservation efforts worldwide. However, protected areas do not act in isolation because they are connected with surrounding, unprotected lands. Few studies have evaluated the effects of protected areas on wildlife populations inhabiting private lands in the surrounding landscapes. The lowland tapir Tapirus terrestris is the largest terrestrial mammal of the Neotropics and is categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. It is necessary to understand the influence of landscape characteristics on the tapir’s habitat use to enable effective conservation management for this species. Our objectives were to () determine the potential distribution of the lowland tapir’s habitat in the Southern Yungas of Argentina, and () evaluate the role of protected areas and other covariates on tapir habitat use in adjacent private lands. We used records of lowland tapirs to model the species’ potential distribution and determined habitat use with occupancy modelling. Based on the covariates found to be significant in our models, we constructed predictive maps of probability of habitat use and assessed the area of potential habitat remaining for the species. Probability of habitat use was higher in the vicinity of two national parks and small households than further away from them. We found that in % of the lowland tapir’s potential distribution the probability of habitat use is high (..). These areas are near the three national parks in the study area. The probability of detecting lowland tapirs increased with distance to roads. We conclude that national parks play a key role in the persistence of lowland tapir populations on adjacent private lands.

File: Riveraetal2020.pdf

Forest phenoclusters for Argentina based on vegetation phenology and climate

Forest biodiversity conservation and species distribution modeling greatly benefit from broad-scale forest maps depicting tree species or forest types rather than just presence and absence of forest, or coarse classifications. Ideally, such maps would stem from satellite image classification based on abundant field data for both model training and accuracy assessments, but such field data do not exist in many parts of the globe. However, different forest types and tree species differ in their vegetation phenology, offering an opportunity to map and characterize forests based on the seasonal dynamic of vegetation indices and auxiliary data. Our goal was to map and characterize forests based on both land surface phenology and climate patterns, defined here as forest phenoclusters. We applied our methodology in Argentina (2.8 million km2), which has a wide variety of forests, from rainforests to cold-temperate forests. We calculated phenology measures after fitting a harmonic curve of the enhanced vegetation index (EVI) time series derived from 30-m Sentinel 2 and Landsat 8 data from 2018–2019. For climate, we calculated land surface temperature (LST) from Band 10 of the thermal infrared sensor (TIRS) of Landsat 8, and precipitation from Worldclim (BIO12). We performed stratified X-means cluster classifications followed by hierarchical clustering. The resulting clusters separated well into 54 forest phenoclusters with unique combinations of vegetation phenology and climate characteristics. The EVI 90th percentile was more important than our climate and other phenology measures in providing separability among different forest phenoclusters. Our results highlight the potential of combining remotely sensed phenology measures and climate data to improve broad-scale forest mapping for different management and conservation goals, capturing functional rather than structural or compositional characteristics between and within tree species. Our approach results in classifications that go beyond simple forest–nonforest in areas where the lack of detailed ecological field data precludes tree species–level classifications, yet conservation needs are high. Our map of forest phenoclusters is a valuable tool for the assessment of natural resources, and the management of the environment at scales relevant for conservation actions.

File: Ecological-Applications-2022-Silveira-Forest-phenoclusters-for-Argentina-based-on-vegetation-phenology-and-climate.pdf

Informing forest conservation planning with detailed human footprint data for Argentina

Conserving the remaining wildest forests is a top priority for conservation, and human footprint maps are a practical way to identify wild areas. However, available global assessments of wild areas are too coarse for land use decisions, especially in countries with high deforestation rates, such as Argentina. Our main goal was to map the human footprint in Argentina’s forested areas to improve conservation planning at regional and country levels. Specifically, we quantified the level of human influence on the environment and mapped the wildest native forests (i) across forest regions, and (ii) in the different land-use categories of the National Forest Plan, which is a key policy instrument for conserving the nation’s native forests through zoning, and (iii) identified wildest forests that are at risk due to human activities. We analyzed detailed spatial data on settlements, transportation, energy, and land use change, and estimated the areal extent to which these various human activities disrupt natural processes. We defined pixels with human footprint index of zero as wildest areas. We found that a substantial portion (43%) of Argentina’s forested area remains wild, which suggests there are opportunities for conservation. However, levels of human influence varied substantially among forest regions, and Atlantic and Chaco forests have the highest levels of human influence. Further, we found that the National Forest Plan does not conserve the wildest forests of the nation, as most (78%) of the wildest native forests are located in zones that allow silvopasture, timber production, and/or forest conversion to crops, thus potentially threatening biodiversity in these areas. Our map of wildest forests is an important, but first, step in identifying wildland forests in Argentina, as available spatial data layers of human activities capture many, but not all, human influences on forests. For instance, small human features, like certain rural roads, trails, and rural settlements exist in our wildest areas. Our study provides new datasets to assist land use planners and conservationists, and identifies areas for conservation attention in Argentina. More broadly, our analyses highlight the value of detailed human footprint data to support conservation decisions in forest landscapes.

File: Martinuzzi-et-al_2021_HF-Argentina.pdf

Assessing the effectiveness of a forest Habitat Conservation Plan for a threatened seabird, the Marbled Murrelet

Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) commonly facilitate habitat conservation on private land in the United States, yet the effectiveness of individual HCPs is rarely evaluated. Here, we assess the effectiveness of a high-profile HCP created by a lumber company to protect old-growth forests used for breeding by Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) on private land. We used 17 years of HCP-monitoring data to compare trends in murrelet occupancy and inland counts between private HCP areas and public reference areas over time. Based on occupancy models applied to audio-visual survey data, average occupancy was higher in public reference areas (0.85; 85% confidence intervals [CI]: 0.79–0.90) than in private HCP areas (0.46; 85% CI: 0.38–0.54). Numerically, trends in occupancy were slightly positive in public areas ( = 1.01; 85% CI: 0.94–1.08) and slightly negative in private areas ( = 0.97; 85% CI: 0.87–1.06), but CI did not preclude stable occupancy on both ownerships. Based on generalized linear mixed models applied to inland radar survey data, murrelet counts in private HCP areas (least-squares [LS] mean = 8.7; 85% CI: 6.2–12.2) were lower than those in public reference areas (LS mean = 14.8; 85% CI: 10.1–21.7), but CI overlapped. Murrelet counts declined by 12–17% annually on both ownerships over the study period based on the top model, but a closely competing interactive model suggested more rapid declines in public reference (14–20%) than in private HCP (10–15%) areas. Both models indicated that murrelet counts were negatively related to sea surface temperature, suggesting that warm ocean conditions negatively affect murrelet breeding effort. Collectively, these results suggest that while HCP habitat may be lower quality than public reference areas, the HCP has likely not exacerbated ongoing declines of murrelets in the region. This work highlights the importance of including reference areas when evaluating conservation policies.

File: Brunk-et-al-2021_Effectiveness-of-HCP-for-Marbled-Murrelet.pdf

Reducing anthropogenic subsidies can curb density of overabundant predators in protected areas

Protected areas safeguard biodiversity and provide opportunities for human recreation. However, abundant anthropogenic food subsidies associated with human activities in protected areas can lead to high densities of generalist predators, posing a threat to rare species at broad spatial scales. Reducing anthropogenic subsidies could curb populations of overabundant predators, yet the effectiveness of this strategy is unclear. We characterized changes in the foraging ecology, body condition, and demography of a generalist predator, the Steller’s jay, three years after implementation of a multi-faceted management program to reduce anthropogenic subsidies in a protected area in California. Stable isotope analysis revealed that the proportional contribution of anthropogenic foods to jay diets declined from 88% to 47% in response to management. Overlap between jay home ranges decreased after management began, while home range size, body condition, and individual fecundity remained stable. Adult density in subsidized areas decreased markedly from 4.33 (SE: ±0.91) to 0.65 (±0.20) jays/ha after the initiation of management, whereas density in unsubsidized areas that were not expected to be affected by management remained stable (0.70 ± 0.22 pre-management, 0.58 ± 0.38 post-management). Thus, the response of jays to management was density-dependent such that reduced densities facilitated the maintenance of individual body condition and fecundity. Importantly, though, jay population size and collective reproductive output declined substantially. Our study provides evidence that limiting anthropogenic subsidies can successfully reduce generalist predator populations and be part of a strategy to increase compatibility of species protection and human recreation within protected areas.

File: Brunk-et-al-2021_Reducing-anthropogenic-subsidies_Stellers-Jays_Biological-Conservation.pdf

Human footprint defining conservation strategies in Patagonian landscapes: Where we are and where we want to go?

Understanding human influence on ecosystems and their services is crucial to achieve sustainable development and ensure the conservation of biodiversity. In this context, the human footprint index (HFI) represents the anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems and the natural environment. Our objective was to characterize the HFI in Southern Patagonia (Argentina) across the landscape, qualifying the differences among the main ecological areas and especially the forested landscapes. We also assessed the potential utility of HFI to identify priority conservation areas according to their wilderness quality and potential biodiversity values. We created a HFI map (scores varied from 0 representing high wilderness quality to 1 representing maximum human impact) using variables related to direct (e.g. infrastructure) and indirect (e.g. derived from economic activities) human impacts, including settlements, accessibility, oil industry, and sheep production. HFI varied significantly across the natural landscapes, being lower (0.07􀀀 0.11) in remote ecosystems close to the Andes Mountains and higher (0.38􀀀 0.40) in southern areas close to the provincial capital city. Forested landscapes presented different impact values, which were directly related to the economical values of the different forest types. We determined that the current protected area network is not equally distributed across the different ecological areas and forest types. Priority conservation areas were also identified using the fragmentation produced by the human impact, the patch size, and the potential biodiversity values. HFI can present high compatibility with other land-use management decision making tools, acting as a complement to the existing tools for conservation planning or management.

File: Rosas-Y.M.-et-al.-2021.-Human-footprint-defining-conservation-strategies-in-Patagonian-landscapes_J-Nature-Conservation.pdf