Habitat selection and population regulation in temporally fluctuating environments.

Research paper by Niclas N Jonzen, Chris C Wilcox, Hugh P HP Possingham

Indexed on: 02 Oct '04Published on: 02 Oct '04Published in: The American naturalist


Understanding and predicting the distribution of organisms in heterogeneous environments lies at the heart of ecology, and the theory of density-dependent habitat selection (DDHS) provides ecologists with an inferential framework linking evolution and population dynamics. Current theory does not allow for temporal variation in habitat quality, a serious limitation when confronted with real ecological systems. We develop both a stochastic equivalent of the ideal free distribution to study how spatial patterns of habitat use depend on the magnitude and spatial correlation of environmental stochasticity and also a stochastic habitat selection rule. The emerging patterns are confronted with deterministic predictions based on isodar analysis, an established empirical approach to the analysis of habitat selection patterns. Our simulations highlight some consistent patterns of habitat use, indicating that it is possible to make inferences about the habitat selection process based on observed patterns of habitat use. However, isodar analysis gives results that are contingent on the magnitude and spatial correlation of environmental stochasticity. Hence, DDHS is better revealed by a measure of habitat selectivity than by empirical isodars. The detection of DDHS is but a small component of isodar theory, which remains an important conceptual framework for linking evolutionary strategies in behavior and population dynamics.