Habitat selection and ranges of tolerance: how do species differ beyond critical thresholds?


  • This work was supported by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Dakota Prairie Grasslands.


Mary Ann Cunningham, Department of Earth Science and Geography, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York 12604, USA. Tel: 845-437-5547; Fax: 845-437-7577; E-mail: macunningham@vassar.edu


Sensitivity to habitat fragmentation often has been examined in terms of thresholds in landscape composition at which a species is likely to occur. Observed thresholds often have been low or absent, however, leaving much unexplained about habitat selection beyond initial thresholds of occurrence, even for species with strong habitat preferences. We examined responses to varying amounts of tree cover, a widely influential measure of habitat loss, for 40 woodland bird species in a mixed woodland/grassland landscape in eastern North Dakota, USA. We used LOESS smoothing to describe incidence for each species at three scales: within 200, 400, and 1200 m around sample locations. For the 200-m scale, we also calculated the most-preferred range of tree cover (within which at least half of observations were predicted to occur) for each species. Only 10 of 40 species had occurrence thresholds greater than about 10% tree cover. After initial occurrence, species showed three general patterns: some increased monotonically with tree cover; some increased up to an asymptote; some peaked at intermediate amounts of tree cover and then declined. These patterns approximate selection for interior woodlands and for edge-rich environments, but incidence plots provide greater detail in landscape-scale selection than do those categories. For most species, patterns persisted at larger scales, but for some, larger scales had distinctly different patterns than local scales. Preferred ranges of tree cover varied from <20% tree cover (common grackle, Quiscalus quiscula) to >60% (veery, Catharus fuscescens). We conclude that incidence patterns provide more information on habitat selection than do threshold measures for most species: in particular, they differentiate species preferring concentrated woodlands from those preferring mixed landscapes, and they show contrasting degrees of selectiveness. [Correction added on 16 October 2012, after first online publication: the Abstract section has been reworded].