Spatial scale selection for informing species conservation in a changing landscape

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Identifying the relevant spatial scale at which species respond to features in a landscape (scale of effect) is a pressing research need as managers work to reduce biodiversity loss amid a variety of environmental challenges. Until recently, researchers often evaluated a subset of potential scales of effect inferred from previous studies in other locations, often based on different biological responses and environmental variables. These approaches, however, can create uncertainty as to whether relevant spatial scales were identified, and whether the effects of environmental variables at scale were accurately estimated. Identifying scales of effect is particularly relevant for the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), a sagebrush-obligate species of conservation concern requiring large areas of intact sagebrush cover (Artemisia spp.) for habitat. We demonstrate the application of a scale selection approach that jointly estimates the scale of effect and the effect of sagebrush cover on trends in population size using counts from 584 sage-grouse leks in southwestern Wyoming (2003–2019) and annual estimates of sagebrush cover from a remote sensing product. From this approach, we estimated a positive effect of mean sagebrush cover with a 95% probability that the scale of effect occurred within 5.02 km of leks. In an average year, we found that lower levels of sagebrush cover within these estimated scales could support increasing trends in sage-grouse population size when populations were small, but higher levels of sagebrush cover were needed to sustain growing populations when populations were larger. With standardized monitoring and annual estimates of vegetation from remote sensing, this scale selection approach can be applied to identify relevant scales for other populations, species, and biological responses such as demography and movement.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Spatial scale selection for informing species conservation in a changing landscape
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4320
Volume 13
Issue 12
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description e4320, 14 p.
Country United States
State Wyoming
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