Date of this Version
Gese EM, Thompson CM (2014) Does Habitat Heterogeneity in a Multi-Use Landscape Influence Survival Rates and Density of a Native Mesocarnivore? PLoS ONE 9(6): e100500. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100500
The relationships between predators, prey, and habitat have long been of interest to applied and basic ecologists. As a native Great Plains mesocarnivore of North America, swift foxes (Vulpes velox) depended on the historic disturbance regime to maintain open grassland habitat. With a decline in native grasslands and subsequent impacts to prairie specialists, notably the swift fox, understanding the influence of habitat on native predators is paramount to future management efforts. From 2001 to 2004, we investigated the influence of vegetation structure on swift fox population ecology (survival and density) on and around the Pin˜on Canyon Maneuver Site, southeastern Colorado, USA. We monitored 109 foxes on 6 study sites exposed to 3 different disturbance regimes (military training, grazing, unused). On each site we evaluated vegetation structure based on shrub density, basal coverage, vegetation height, and litter. Across all sites, annual fox survival rates ranged from 0.50 to 0.92 for adults and 0.27 to 0.78 for juveniles. Among sites, population estimates ranged from 1 to 7 foxes per 10 km transect. Fox density or survival was not related to the relative abundance of prey. A robust model estimating fox population size and incorporating both shrub density and percent basal cover as explanatory variables far outperformed all other models. Our results supported the idea that, in our region, swift foxes were shortgrass prairie specialists and also indicated a relationship between habitat quality and landscape heterogeneity. We suggest the regulation of swift fox populations may be based on habitat quality through landscape-mediated survival, and managers may effectively use disturbance regimes to create or maintain habitat for this native mesocarnivore.