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A case for multiscale habitat selection studies of small mammals

July 12, 2021

Habitat information for small mammals typically consists of anecdotal descriptions or infrequent analyses of habitat use, which often are reported erroneously as signifying habitat preference, requirements, or quality. Habitat preferences can be determined only by analysis of habitat selection, a behavioral process that results in the disproportionate use of one resource over other available resources and occurs in a hierarchical manner across different environmental scales. North American chipmunks (Neotamias and Tamias) are a prime example of the lack of studies on habitat selection for small mammal species. We used the Organ Mountains Colorado chipmunk (N. quadrivittatus australis) as a case study to determine whether previous descriptions of habitat in the literature were upheld in a multiscale habitat selection context. We tracked VHF radiocollared chipmunks and collected habitat information at used and available locations to analyze habitat selection at three scales: second order (i.e., home range), third order (i.e., within home range), and microhabitat scales. Mean home range was 2.55 ha ± 1.55 SD and did not differ between sexes. At the second and third order, N. q. australis avoided a coniferous forest land cover type and favored particular areas of arroyos (gullies) that were relatively steep-sided and greener and contained montane scrub land cover type. At the microhabitat scale, chipmunks selected areas that had greater woody plant diversity, rock ground cover, and ground cover of coarse woody debris. We concluded that habitat selection by N. q. australis fundamentally was different from descriptions of habitat in the literature that described N. quadrivittatus as primarily associated with coniferous forests. We suggest that arroyos, which are unique and rare on the landscape, function as climate refugia for these chipmunks because they create a cool, wet microclimate. Our findings demonstrate the importance of conducting multiscale habitat selection studies for small mammals to ensure that defensible and enduring habitat information is available to support appropriate conservation and management actions.

Publication Year 2021
Title A case for multiscale habitat selection studies of small mammals
DOI 10.1093/jmammal/gyab071
Authors Brittany R. Schweiger, Jennifer K. Frey, James W. Cain
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Mammalogy
Index ID 70229379
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle