The importance of space and time in conservation biology:Understanding how animals respond to environmental change

UoM administered thesis: Master of Philosophy

  • Authors:
  • John Jackson

Abstract

In an ever-changing world with an increasing human population, improving the efficiency of conservation management strategies is vital to mitigate against continued losses to global biodiversity. Empirical studies highlighting how species respond to environmental change can provide evidence to enable the development of such strategies. There are two strands of research explored in the current work that aim to address these issues. The first is an analysis of changes in species distributions over time with respect to environmental changes. The second is a critical comparison of behaviour, resource use and population performance across ecological gradients within a species' range. In chapter two, local population changes (10 km2 spatial resolution) in 64 species of British passerine were examined from 1970 and 1990. These were analysed using a spatially explicit linear mixed effects model selection framework, which predicted these changes in occupancy with respect to biological traits and environmental changes, namely changes in human land use and climate. In chapter three, a more targeted approach was used to investigate the variation in social network structure across ten independent sub-populations of Cape mountain zebra, Equus zebra zebra, with respect to variation in habitat availability, demography and population performance. In British passerines, rare species with fragmented ranges were found to be the most likely to undergo local extinctions. Furthermore, human land use was highlighted as a more reliable predictor of local occupancy than climate change at this spatial and temporal resolution. Our findings emphasize the need to increase and maintain diverse, interconnected networks of appropriate habitat. For Cape mountain zebra, individual connectivity, group size, the proportion of bachelors, and the ties of each adult male were all influenced by the availability of palatable grass and water. In optimal habitat, there were more connected individuals, larger groups and a smaller proportion of bachelors. Along with other recent studies of the habitat preferences of Cape mountain zebra, our research suggests that mesic habitats with a high availability of palatable grass are vital to maintain productive populations with a higher proportion of heterogeneous family groups. Understanding how species respond to environmental changes can only increase in importance as human populations rise.

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Original languageEnglish
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Award date31 Dec 2016