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Multi-scale habitat relationships of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) in the mixed conifer landscape of the Northern Rockies, USA: Cross-scale effects of horizontal cover with implications for forest management

Posted date: January 10, 2017
Publication Year: 
2016
Authors: Holbrook, Joseph D.; Squires, John R.Olson, Lucretia E.; Lawrence, Rick L.; Savage, Shannon L.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Ecology and Evolution. 7: 125-144.

Abstract

Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are an ecologically important herbivore because they modify vegetation through browsing and serve as a prey resource for multiple predators. We implemented a multiscale approach to characterize habitat relationships for snowshoe hares across the mixed conifer landscape of the northern Rocky Mountains, USA. Our objectives were to (1) assess the relationship between horizontal cover and snowshoe hares, (2) estimate how forest metrics vary across the gradient of snowshoe hare use and horizontal cover, and (3) model and map snowshoe hare occupancy and intensity of use. Results indicated that both occupancy and intensity of use by snowshoe hares increased with horizontal cover and that the effect became stronger as intensity of use increased. This underscores the importance of dense horizontal cover to achieve high use, and likely density, of snowshoe hares. Forest structure in areas with high snowshoe hare use and horizontal cover was characterized as multistoried with dense canopy cover and medium- sized trees (e.g., 12.7–24.4 cm). The abundance of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) was associated with snowshoe hare use within a mixed conifer context, and the only species to increase in abundance with horizontal cover was Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). Our landscape- level modeling produced similar patterns in that we observed a positive effect of lodgepole pine and horizontal cover on both occupancy and use by snowshoe hares, but we also observed a positive yet parabolic effect of snow depth on snowshoe hare occupancy. This work is among the first to characterize the multiscale habitat relationships of snowshoe hares across a mixed conifer landscape as well as to map their occupancy and intensity of use. Moreover, our results provide standand landscape- level insights that directly relate to management agencies, which aids in conservation efforts of snowshoe hares and their associated predators.

Citation

Holbrook, Joseph D.; Squires, John R.; Olson, Lucretia E.; Lawrence, Rick L.; Savage, Shannon L. 2016. Multi-scale habitat relationships of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) in the mixed conifer landscape of the Northern Rockies, USA: Cross-scale effects of horizontal cover with implications for forest management. Ecology and Evolution. 7: 125-144.