Linking habitat selection and predation risk to spatial variation in survival

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Summary

  1. A central assumption underlying the study of habitat selection is that selected habitats confer enhanced fitness. Unfortunately, this assumption is rarely tested, and in some systems, gradients of predation risk may more accurately characterize spatial variation in vital rates than gradients described by habitat selection studies.

  2. Here, we separately measured spatial patterns of both resource selection and predation risk and tested their relationships with a key demographic trait, adult female survival, for a threatened ungulate, woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou Gmelin). We also evaluated whether exposure to gradients in both predation risk and resource selection value was manifested temporally through instantaneous or seasonal effects on survival outcomes.

  3. We used Cox proportional hazards spatial survival modelling to assess the relative support for 5 selection- and risk-based definitions of habitat quality, as quantified by woodland caribou adult female survival. These hypotheses included scenarios in which selection ideally mirrored survival, risk entirely drove survival, non-ideal selection correlated with survival but with additive risk effects, an ecological trap with maladaptive selection and a non-spatial effect of annual variation in weather.

  4. Indeed, we found positive relationships between the predicted values of a resource selection function (RSF) and survival, yet subsequently incorporating an additional negative effect of predation risk greatly improved models further. This revealed a positive, but non-ideal relationship between selection and survival. Gradients in these covariates were also shown to affect individual survival probability at multiple temporal scales. Exposure to increased predation risk had a relatively instantaneous effect on survival outcomes, whereas variation in habitat suitability predicted by an RSF had both instantaneous and longer-term seasonal effects on survival.

  5. Predation risk was an additive source of hazard beyond that detected through selection alone, and woodland caribou selection thus was shown to be non-ideal. Furthermore, by combining spatial adult female survival models with herd-specific estimates of recruitment in matrix population models, we estimated a spatially explicit landscape of population growth predictions for this endangered species.

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