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Resource selection functions based on hierarchical generalized additive models provide new insights into individual animal variation and species distribution

October 19, 2021

Habitat selection studies are designed to generate predictions of species distributions or inference regarding general habitat associations and individual variation in habitat use. Such studies frequently involve either individually indexed locations gathered across limited spatial extents and analyzed using resource selection functions (RSFs) or spatially extensive locational data without individual resolution typically analyzed using species distribution models. Both analytical methodologies have certain desirable features, but analyses that combine individual- and population-level inference with flexible non-linear functions may provide improved predictions while accounting for individual variation. Here, we describe how RSFs can be fit using hierarchical generalized additive models (HGAMs) using widely available software, providing a means to explore individual variation in habitat associations and to generate species distribution maps. We used GPS tracking data from golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos from across eastern North America with four environmental predictors to generate monthly distribution models. We considered three model structures that assumed different amounts of individual variation in the functional relationship between predictors and habitat use and used k-fold cross-validation to compare model performance. Models accounting for individual variability in shape and smoothness of functional responses performed best. Eagles exhibited the least amount of individual variation in response to land cover variables during winter months, with most individuals more closely adhering to the population-level trend. During the summer months, eagles exhibited more substantial individual variation in shape and smoothness of the functional relationships, suggesting some need to account for individual variation in eagle habitat use for both inferential and predictive purposes, during this time of year. Because they allow users to blend flexible functions with random effects structures and are well-supported by a variety of software platforms, we believe that HGAMs provide a useful addition to the suite of analyses used for modeling habitat associations or predicting species distributions.

Publication Year 2021
Title Resource selection functions based on hierarchical generalized additive models provide new insights into individual animal variation and species distribution
DOI 10.1111/ecog.06058
Authors Jennifer D McCabe, John Clare, Tricia A. Miller, Todd E. Katzner, Jeff Cooper, Scott G. Somershoe, David Hanni, Christine A. Kelly, Robert Sargent, Eric C. Soehren, Carrie Threadgill, Mercedes Maddox, Jonathan Stober, Mark S. Martell, Thomas Salo, Andrew Berry, Michael J. Lanzone, Melissa A. Braham, Christopher J.W. McClure
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecography
Index ID 70229677
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center