Fine-scale habitat heterogeneity influences occupancy in terrestrial mammals in a temperate region of Australia

Ingrid Stirnemann, Alessio Mortelliti, Philip Gibbons, David B. Lindenmayer

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    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Vegetation heterogeneity is an inherent feature of most ecosystems, characterises the structure of habitat, and is considered an important driver of species distribution patterns. However, quantifying fine-scale heterogeneity of vegetation cover can be time consuming, and therefore it is seldom measured. Here, we determine if heterogeneity is worthwhile measuring, in addition to the amount of cover, when examining species distribution patterns. Further, we investigated the effect of the surrounding landscape heterogeneity on species occupancy. We tested the effect of cover and heterogeneity of trees and shrubs, and the context of the surrounding landscape (number of habitats and distance to an ecotone) on site occupancy of three mammal species (the black wallaby [Wallabia bicolor], the long-nosed bandicoot [Perameles nasuta], and the bush rat [Rattus fuscipes]) within a naturally heterogeneous landscape in a temperate region of Australia. We found that fine-scale heterogeneity of vegetation attributes is an important driver of mammal occurrence of two of these species. Further, we found that, although all three species responded positively to vegetation heterogeneity, different mammals vary in their response to different types of vegetation heterogeneity measurement. For example, the black wallaby responded to the proximity of an ecotone, and the bush rat and the long-nosed bandicoot responded to fine-scale heterogeneity of small tree cover, whereas none of the mammals responded to broad scale heterogeneity (i.e., the number of habitat types). Our results highlight the influence of methodological decisions, such as how heterogeneity vegetation is measured, in quantifying species responses to habitat structures. The findings confirm the importance of choosing meaningful heterogeneity measures when modelling the factors influencing occupancy of the species of interest. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere0138681
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2015


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