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We tested the potential of a GIS mapping technique, using a resource selection model developed for black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) and based on the Mahalanobis distance statistic, to track changes in shrubsteppe habitats in southwestern Idaho. If successful, the technique could be used to predict animal use areas, or those undergoing change, in different regions from the same selection function and variables without additional sampling. We determined the multivariate mean vector of 7 GIS variables that described habitats used by jackrabbits. We then ranked the similarity of all cells in the GIS coverage from their Mahalanobis distance to the mean habitat vector. The resulting map accurately depicted areas where we sighted jackrabbits on verification surveys. We then simulated an increase in shrublands (which are important habitats). Contrary to expectation, the new configurations were classified as lower similarity relative to the original mean habitat vector. Because the selection function is based on a unimodal mean, any deviation, even if biologically positive, creates larger Malanobis distances and lower similarity values. We recommend the Mahalanobis distance technique for mapping animal use areas when animals are distributed optimally, the landscape is well-sampled to determine the mean habitat vector, and distributions of the habitat variables does not change.
Additional Publication Details
Limitations to mapping habitat-use areas in changing landscapes using the Mahalanobis distance statistic
Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics