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Keywords:

  • Coachella Valley;
  • conservation;
  • corridor dwellers;
  • linkage;
  • Mahalanobis D2;
  • niche model;
  • Palm Springs pocket mouse;
  • Perognathus longimembris bangsii;
  • suitable niche space

Abstract

Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation typically precedes conservation planning; maintaining remaining linkages among core habitat areas can thus become a key conservation objective. Identifying linkages for dispersal and ensuring those linkages have long-term protection and management are challenging tasks for wildlife managers. These tasks can be especially daunting for smaller species with low mobility, termed corridor dwellers, which must maintain sustainable populations within corridors. Between May 2007 and June 2009, we collected occurrence locations for a corridor dweller, the Palm Springs pocket mouse (Perognathus longimembris bangsii), from museums, previous research, and our own field sampling. We used those data to model their suitable niche space and then identify suitable linkages between proposed conservation areas. We used a partitioned Mahalanobis D2 statistic to create a spatially explicit niche model describing the distribution of a suitable niche space, and we validated the model statistically, with live trapping and with burrowing owl (Athene cunnicularia) diets. Our model identified soil characteristics, topographic ruggedness, and vegetation as variables delimiting Palm Springs pocket mouse habitat; sand content of the soils was an especially important characteristic. Our historic distribution model identified 120,000–90,000 ha as historically potential Palm Springs pocket mouse habitat; roughly 39% of that has been lost to more recent development. Most of the remaining suitable habitat occurred in the northwestern portion of the valley. We modeled habitat within core reserves as well as within proposed linkages between those reserves as having high similarity to known occupied habitats. Live trapping in areas with high (≥0.95) Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) values resulted in captures at 66% of those locations and, along with burrowing owl diets, refined a qualitative model as to what constituted a suitable Palm Springs pocket mouse corridor. While most corridor analyses have focused on mobile species which may traverse corridors in hours, days, or weeks, linkages for corridor dwellers must include habitat for sustaining multi-generational populations. This requires evaluating whether continuous suitable habitat exists within proposed corridors. Our research demonstrates how niche modeling can provide a landscape-scale view of the distribution of suitable habitat to evaluate conservation objectives for connectivity. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.