Body size, niche breadth, and ecologically scaled responses to habitat fragmentation: Mammalian predators in an agricultural landscape

Thomas M. Gehring, Robert K. Swihart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Scopus citations


The ability to make a priori assessments of a species' response to fragmentation, based on its distribution in the landscape, would serve as a valuable conservation and management tool. During 1997-1999, we monitored 717 scent stations to examine seasonal use of forest patches, corridors, and crop fields by coyotes (Canis latrans), domestic cats (Felis catus), foxes (Vulpes vulpes and Urocyon cinereoargenteus), raccoons (Procyon lotor), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), opossums (Didelphis virginiana), and long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata). For each species we developed landscape-based ecologically scaled landscape indices (ELSI), and we modeled species spatial distribution across three spatial scales (landscape-level, element-level, and local habitat-level). Our results suggest that these predators view landscape fragmentation at different spatial scales and demonstrate strong interspecific differences in their response to elements of the landscape. All species except coyotes and domestic cats avoided agricultural fields. In general, predator species that were more mobile (i.e. high ESLI for landscape connectivity; coyotes) were characterized by landscape- and element-based logistic models. In contrast, models including local habitat features generally were most appropriate for less mobile or more stenophagous predators (e.g. long-tailed weasels). Our analysis extends the application of the ESLI concept to species assemblages that do not appear to function as metapopulations, and it highlights the importance of examining spatial scale and species-specific responses to habitat fragmentation. We discuss the relevance of these findings for defining ecological landscapes, understanding predator-prey interactions at multiple spatial scales, and conserving predator and prey populations in fragmented landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-295
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2003


  • Agriculture
  • Body size
  • Conservation
  • GIS
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Landscape
  • Mesopredators
  • Models
  • Niche breadth
  • Spatial scale


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