Evaluation of Habitat Suitability Models for Forest Passerines Using Demographic Data
Journal of Wildlife Management
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.