Terrain ruggedness is often an important variable in wildlife habitat models. Most methods used to quantify ruggedness are indices derived from measures of slope and, as a result, are strongly correlated with slope. Using a Geographic Information System, we developed a vector ruggedness measure (VRM) of terrain based on a geomorphological method for measuring vector dispersion that is less correlated with slope. We examined the relationship of VRM to slope and to 2 commonly used indices of ruggedness in 3 physiographically different mountain ranges within the Mojave Desert of the southwestern United States. We used VRM, slope, distance to water, and springtime bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) adult female locations to model sheep habitat in the 3 ranges. Using logistic regression, we determined that the importance of ruggedness in habitat selection remained consistent across mountain ranges, whereas the relative importance of slope varied according to the characteristic physiography of each range. Our results indicate that the VRM quantifies local variation in terrain more independently of slope than other methods tested, and that VRM and slope distinguish 2 different components of bighorn sheep habitat.
Additional publication details
Quantifying landscape ruggedness for animal habitat analysis: A case study using bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert