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Data from: Functional responses in animal movement explain spatial heterogeneity in animal-habitat relationships

Cite this dataset

Mason, Tom H.E.; Fortin, Daniel; Mason, Tom H. E. (2018). Data from: Functional responses in animal movement explain spatial heterogeneity in animal-habitat relationships [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Understanding why heterogeneity exists in animal-habitat spatial relationships is critical for identifying the drivers of animal distributions. Functional responses in habitat selection – whereby animals adjust their habitat selection depending on habitat availability – are useful for describing animal-habitat spatial heterogeneity. However, they could be yielded by different movement tactics, involving contrasting inter-specific interactions. 2. Identifying functional responses in animal movement, rather than in emergent spatial patterns like habitat selection, could disentangle the effects of different movement behaviours on spatial heterogeneity in animal-habitat relationships. This would clarify how functional responses in habitat selection emerge and provide a general tool for understanding the mechanistic drivers of animal distributions. 3. We tested this approach using data from GPS-collared woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus), a prey species under top-down control. We tested how caribou selected and moved with respect to a key resource (lichen-conifer stands) as a function of the availability of surrounding refuge land-cover (closed-conifer stands), using step selection functions. 4. Caribou selected resource patches more strongly in areas richer in refuge land-cover – a functional response in habitat selection. However, adjustments in multiple movement behaviours could have generated this pattern: stronger directed movement towards resources patches and/or longer residency within resource patches, in areas richer in refuges. Different contributions of these behaviours would produce contrasting forager spatial dynamics. 5. We identified functional responses in both movement behaviours: caribou were more likely to move towards resource patches in areas richer in refuge land-cover, and to remain in these patches during movement steps. This tactic enables caribou to spend longer foraging in safer areas where they could rapidly seek refuge in dense cover when predators are detected. 6. Our study shows that functional responses in movement can expose the context-dependent movement decisions that generate heterogeneity in animal-habitat spatial relationships. We used these functional responses to characterise anti-predator movement tactics employed by a large herbivore, but they could be applied in many different scenarios. The movement rules from functional responses in movement are well-suited to integration in spatial explicit individual-based models for forecasting animal distributions in landscapes undergoing environmental change.

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