MODELING MOOSE HABITAT USE BY AGE, SEX, AND SEASON IN VERMONT, USA USING HIGH-RESOLUTION LIDAR AND NATIONAL LAND COVER DATA
Keywords:Alces alces, habitat suitability, land cover, lidar, moose, resource utilization function, habitat, management
Moose (Alces alces) populations have experienced unprecedented declines along the southern periphery of their range, including Vermont, USA. Habitat management may be used to improve the status of the population and health of individuals. To date, however, Vermont wildlife managers have been challenged to effectively use this important tool due to the lack of fine-scale information on moose space use and habitat characteristics. To assess habitat use, we combined more than 40,000 moose locations collected from radio-collared individuals (n = 74), recent land cover data, and high resolution, 3-dimensional lidar (light detection and ranging) data to develop Resource Utilization Functions (RUF) by age (mature and young adult), season (dormant and growth), and sex. Each RUF linked home range use to average habitat conditions within 400 m or 1 km of each 30 m2 pixel within the home range. Across analyses, the top RUF models included both composition (as measured through the National Land Cover Database) and structure (as measured through lidar) variables, and significantly outperformed models that excluded lidar variables. These findings support the notion that lidar is an effective tool for improving the ability of models to estimate patterns of habitat use, especially for larger bodied mammals. Generally speaking, female moose actively used areas with proportionally more regenerating forest (i.e., forage < 3.0 m) and more mature forest (i.e., canopy structure > 6.0 m), while males actively used more high elevation, mixed forest types. Further, moose exhibited important seasonal differences in habitat use that likely reflect temporal changes in energetic and nutritional requirements and behavior across the year. Moose used areas with proportionally more regenerating forest (i.e., forage < 3.0 m) during the growth period and female moose had strong positive associations with lidar-derived canopy structure during the growth (but not the dormant) period. Ultimately, the resultant maps of habitat use provide a means of informing management activities (e.g., the restoration or alteration of habitats to benefit moose) and policies around land use that may contribute to population recovery.
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