Evaluation of Habitat Suitability Models for Forest Passerines Using Demographic Data

TitleEvaluation of Habitat Suitability Models for Forest Passerines Using Demographic Data
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsRittenhouse, Chadwick D., Thompson Frank R., Dijak William D., Millspaugh Joshua J., and Clawson Richard L.
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Pagination411 - 422
Date Published04/2010
Keywordshabitat suitability, habitat suitability index model, Hylocichla mustelina, Icteria virens, logistic-exposure, Model validation, nest success, territory density, Wood thrush, yellow-breasted chat

Habitat suitability is often used as a surrogate for demographic responses (i.e., abundance, survival, fecundity, or population viability) in the application of habitat suitability index (HSI) models. Whether habitat suitability actually relates to demographics, however, has rarely been evaluated. We validated HSI models of breeding habitat suitability for wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) and yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens) in Missouri, USA. First, we evaluated HSI models as a predictor of 3 demographic responses: within-site territory density, site-level territory density, and nest success. We demonstrated a link between HSI values and all 3 types of demographic responses for the yellow-breasted chat and site-level territory density for the wood thrush. Second, we evaluated support for models containing HSI values, models containing measured habitat features (e.g., tree age, tree species, ecological land type), and models containing management treatments (e.g., even-aged and uneven-aged forest regeneration treatments) for each demographic response using model selection. Models containing HSI values received more support, in general, than models containing only habitat features or management treatments for all 3 types of wildlife response. The assumption that changes in habitat suitability represent wildlife demographic response to vegetation change is supported by our models. However, differences in species ecology may contribute to the degree to which HSI values are related to specific demographic responses. We recommend validation of HSI models with the particular demographic data of interest (i.e., density, productivity) to increase confidence in the model used for conservation planning.