Wildlife Habitat Management WSCI 6387

Lecture 1 Introduction to Wildlife Habitat Management © Timothy Edward Fulbright Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute Kingsville, Texas 78363 Timothy.fulbright@tamuk.edu

Pre-test for Student Learner Outcomes
Answer each question as best you can This is not for a grade

Overview of Course
Lecture: Two Basic Sections
Basic concepts Applied habitat management

Overview of Course
Student presentations
Topics 15-minute powerpoint presentation Term paper Graded by instructor and class

Two field trips

2 exams + final Review of syllabus

Objectives of Lecture
Introduce the habitat concept Importance of habitat loss Discuss contemporary ideas on standardization of terminology regarding habitat Discuss the importance of ecological niche relationships in understanding why animals select certain habitats

Important Points
The term ‘habitat’ is often misused The term habitat type should be avoided in discussions of wildlife-habitat relationships Habitat management should be conceptualized and applied at the landscape level Animals and their habitat coevolved, so humanimposed changes may have dramatic effects Researchers should measure factors that explain why organisms select a certain site, not just document that they do so


Chapters 1-3 in Morrison et al. 2006. Wildlifehabitat relationships: concepts and applications, 3rd edition. Island Press, Washington. Morrison, M.L. 2001. A proposed research emphasis to overcome the limits of wildlife-habitat relationship studies. Journal of Wildlife Management 65:613623. Hall, L.S., P.R. Krausman, and M.L. Morrison. 1997. The habitat concept and a plea for standardized terminology. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25: 173-182. Guthery, F. S. 1997. A philosophy of habitat management for northern bobwhites. Journal of Wildlife Management 61:291-301

Habitat Loss & Degradation
Loss of habitat is the most significant threat to wildlife conservation in the United States Habitat loss is the major cause of declines in wildlife populations

Habitat Loss & Degradation
Fahrig, L. 1997. Relative effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on population extinction. Journal of Wildlife Management 61:603-610. Wennergren (1995) suggests how habitats are arranged in space can mitigate the risks of species extinctions from habitat loss Effects of habitat loss far outweigh effects of habitat fragmentation Details of how habitats are arranged cannot usually mitigate the risks of habitat loss Conservation efforts should be aimed foremost at stopping habitat loss and at habitat restoration

Habitat Loss & Degradation
Texas – 133 million acres of wildlife habitat remain Texas - 178,700 rural acres/year from 1992 to 1997 were converted to urban use Rate of habitat loss is accelerating as the human population continues to increase.

Habitat Loss & Degradation
50% of the land in Texas “set aside” for conservation is in 2 counties in west Texas (primarily Chihuahuan Desert) 87-94% of land in Texas privately owned

Habitat Loss & Degradation
In addition to the accelerating loss of habitat, the quality of the remaining habitat is being degraded by a variety of factors, including fragmentation as larger ranches are continually broken up into smaller ranches and ranchettes, oil and gas activity, construction of wind farms, range management practices such as brush control directed at increasing livestock production, and excessive livestock grazing. The rate of habitat degradation and consequent loss of wildlife species and numbers of animals is difficult to quantify.


“The resources and conditions present in an area that produce occupancy – including survival and reproduction – by a given organism (Hall et al. 1997). Habitat quality is “the ability of the environment to provide conditions appropriate for individual and population persistence” Hall et al. (1997).

Habitat is species specific Statements like “this is good wildlife habitat” are misleading For example
Good white-tailed deer habitat may be poor mule deer habitat Good habitat for lark sparrows is poor habitat for olive sparrows Food Cover Water Space

‘Classical’ habitat components

Vegetation is a central component of wildlife habitat Provides cover and food for omnivores, herbivores, frugivores, and granivores Cover types

Security or hiding cover Thermal cover Loafing (resting) cover/coverts

Cover may also be provided by landscape features such as rocks


Most wildlife species require surface water Many desert species can survive on metabolic or preformed water in food items
E.g., Kangaroo rats

Usable space is a ‘useful’ concept (Guthery 1997) Commonly, not all of the landscape is usable as habitat for a given organism Important to take into account habitat that is not usable

Northern bobwhites Center of buffelgrass fields are not usable space

Usable space an important concept when making decisions regarding carrying capacity Portion of the landscape that is not usable should not be considered in calculating carrying capacity of an area For example, if you have 10,000 acres but only 8,000 acres is usable space, carrying capacity should be calculated based on 8,000 acres




Site Productivity Productivity - the rate at which radiant energy is used by producers to form organic substances as food for consumers. Factors influencing productivity include solar radiation, temperature, soil fertility, and precipitation Within a given climatic region with level topography, precipitation and soil fertility are primary drivers

Wildlife diversity and biomass generally increases with increasing precipitation and soil fertility Precipitation may be a primary driving mechanism across bioclimatic zones Soil fertility may be a primary driving mechanism within a bioclimatic zone


Bioclimatic Zones
Aridity index = P/ETP where P = precipitation and ETP = potential evapo-transpiration
Hyperarid = <0.05 Arid = 0.05 - <0.2 Semiarid = 0.2 - <0.45 Dry subhumid = 0.45 – <0.65 Subhumid and Humid = >0.65

Climatic Regions
0.2 to <0.45 >0.65

Aridity index = annual precipitation/ evapotranspiration
0.05 to <0.2

0.45 to <0.65

Soil Fertility
Influences productivity, vegetation complexity Highest large herbivore diversity in areas with intermediate moisture and high nutrients
(Olff et al. 2002. Global environmental controls of diversity in large herbivores. Nature 415:901-904 [http://www.resourceecology.org/resources/publications/2002_Olff,Prins_GlobalEnvironmental ControlsOfDiversityInLargeHerbivores.pdf[)

Soil Fertility
More plant-available moisture reduces the nutrient content of plants but increases productivity, whereas more plant-available nutrients increase both of these factors. Because larger herbivore species tolerate lower plant nutrient content but require greater plant abundance, the highest potential herbivore diversity should occur in locations with intermediate moisture and high nutrients. These areas are dry enough to yield high quality plants and support smaller herbivores, but productive enough to support larger herbivores.

Soil Fertility
Deer in Mississippi (Strickland, B.K., and S. Demarais. 2000. Age and regional differences in antlers and mass of white-tailed deer. Journal of Wildlife Management 64:903-911) Mature males reached maximum eviscerated body mass (about 70 kg) at 4 years of age on fertile soils, and at only 3 years of age on infertile soils, averaging at little as 50 kg at maturity

Habitat in An Evolutionary Context
Organisms evolved in response to environmental factors
Developed adaptations to abiotic and biotic conditions enabling them to survive and reproduce Distribution and abundance of an organism depends on these adaptations

Certain organisms are preadapted
Happen to be adapted to a given set of environmental conditions Adapted to a particular area by chance


Habitat in an Evolutionary Context
Human impacts may make the current environment different than the one the organism evolved in
Human caused changes may cause irreversible negative impacts Examples: pronghorns, northern bobwhites

Habitat in an Evolutionary Context
Pronghorns once abundant in south Texas from Chapman Ranch west to Starr and Jim Hogg Counties Remnant herd disappeared in 1980’s Why? Probably changes in vegetation, at least in part
Conversion of grassland to brushland Pronghorns not adapted to shrubland ecosystem

A relict from when climate was cooler and drier?

Habitat in an Evolutionary Context
Northern bobwhites declining; almost extinct in SE United States Human-imposed changes in habitat appear to be the primary cause

Joint evolution of two or more species that have close ecological relationships but do not exchange genetic material Vegetation and herbivores coevolved
Vegetation developed adaptations to discourage herbivory Herbivores evolved adaptations to cope with adaptations of the vegetation

Habitat in an Evolutionary Context
Introduction of organisms that did not evolve in a particular area/continent may have serious consequences Preadapted species with no predators can expand rapidly – European sparrows, starlings, etc. May outcompete native species; predators such as brown tree snake may eliminate native species

Ecological Niche
Has been defined in a variety of ways Odum – function of an organism in the community Grinnel – all the sites where a species can live Hutchinson –imaginary space with many dimensions, in which each dimension represents the range of some resources required by the organism


Ecological Niche
Morrison et al. (2006) point out that habitat can provide only part of the explanation of the distribution of an animal Must understand the animal’s niche to fully understand mechanisms responsible for animal’s fitness and survival

Ecological Niche
Habitat and niche are overlapping concepts “A problem with focusing on habitat is that features measured can stay the same while use of important resources within the habitat can change.” (Morrison et al. 2006) Example: deer provided protein pellets foraged primarily on browse while deer without pellets consumed primarily mast

Ecological Niche
Differences we identify in habitat studies such as a change in the use of an area are often caused by a change in the use of specific resources (Morrison et al. 2006) Describing habitat in regard to plant composition or structure often does not predict animal performance because constraints on exploitation of essential resources are not identified (Morrison et al. 2006)

Habitat Research
Research on habitat use should include measuring factors that may explain why an animal chooses to occupy a given site, not just documentation of whether or not it occupies that site (Morrison et al. 2006)

Terminology in Habitat Management
The term habitat type is often misused in wildlife literature A habitat type includes all portions of the landscape that support, or potentially support, the same relatively stable plant association under undisturbed conditions (Daubenmire, R. 1968. Plant communities: A textbook of plant synecology. Harper and Row Publishers, New York).

Terminology in Habitat Management
Habitat ≠ habitat type Habitat is much more than just a particular vegetation association Habitat type should not be used when discussing wildlife-habitat relationships (Hall et al. 1997)


Terminology in Habitat Management
Habitat use - the way an organism uses a combination of abiotic and biotic components in a habitat (Hall et al. 1997) Habitat selection – process involving innate and learned behavioral decisions made by an animal about what habitat to use at different scales (Hall et al. 1997) Habitat preference – a consequence of the process of habitat selection resulting in disproportionate use of some resources relative to others (Hall et al. 1997)

Terminology in Habitat Management
Habitat availability – accessibility and procureability of abiotic and biotic components of habitat by animals (Hall et al. 1997) Suitable habitat – the term should be avoided because if an organism occupies an area that supports some of its needs, then it is habitat – thus all habitat is suitable by definition (Hall et al. 1997 – also see Wildlife Society Bulletin 25:760-763)

Terminology in Habitat Management
Macrohabitat, microhabitat – relative terms referring to the level at which a study is being conducted; should be defined on a speciesspecific and study-specific basis (Hall et al. 1997)


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