Tyler F. Woollard, Daniel J. Harrison, Erin M. Simons‐Legaard, Kirstin E. Fagan

Functional responses in American marten habitat selection indicate cumulative effects of progressive habitat change

  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

AbstractShifts in habitat selection may serve as behavioral indicators of changing habitat quality and can provide an insight into the effects of chronic disturbance on wildlife populations before rates of occurrence and other metrics related to population viability are affected. Long‐term studies can provide unique opportunities to understand animals' behavioral responses to the cumulative effects of habitat disturbance that may be missed by short‐term studies or space‐for‐time substitution. Using the American marten (Martes americana) as a focal species, we evaluated the effects of progressive habitat disturbance on an animal population by identifying changes in habitat availability and selection over time. Marten are strongly associated with mature forest conditions and are thus sensitive to forest harvesting, which is a chronic and prevalent form of disturbance across the species' range. We developed resource selection functions that characterized both temporally consistent patterns and functional responses in the relative selection of habitats by marten at the patch scale. We used a combination of marten location data collected during three periods over 30 years of extensive forest change in northern Maine and a habitat classification scheme informed by species' behavior and designed to capture habitat changes over time. Marten increased their selection of tall (>12 m mean tree height) mature forest, including uncut forest and regenerated clearcuts, in response to decreased availability. Marten also increased avoidance of early‐successional forest (<9 m mean tree height) in response to increased availability. These functional responses in habitat selection appear to enable marten to maintain access to required resources in mature forest and limit exposure to risky or resource‐poor habitat within home ranges. However, a declining trend in the occurrence of resident adult females may indicate a limit to the functional response strategies for individuals unable to incur the energetic or prey‐related costs that may be associated with strong functional responses. Our results suggest that, despite adaptive habitat selection strategies, there are minimum thresholds of mature forest availability below which resident adults, particularly females, will struggle to persist. We recommend forest management strategies targeted at minimizing the strength of functional responses displayed by marten within occupied landscapes.

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