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Corridor Conservation in Southern California under Climate Change: Understanding Wildlife Response to Burned Landscapes

Released: 2012
Jennings, M., R. Lewison, K. Crooks, E. Boydston, L. Lyren, W. Vickers, and W. Boyce. 2012. Corridor Conservation in Southern California under Climate Change: Understanding Wildlife Response to Burned Landscapes. Society for Conservation Biology, North American Congress for Conservation Biology, Oakland, CA, July 15-18.

Land conservation efforts are challenged by the nature of dynamic ecosystems and shifting climate regimes. In southern California, wildfires are prevalent landscape disturbances expected to become more frequent under climate change. Understanding how changes in this disturbance regime affect wildlife is critical to ensure landscape connectivity. We analyzed GPS tracking data on bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions in southern California to understand how mammalian carnivores respond to burned landscapes. We compare home range sizes and movement patterns in burned and unburned habitats, conduct compositional analysis of habitat usage, and develop a preference index to evaluate individual responses.  At the population level, we found no strong response to burned landscapes, but on an individual level, some animals exhibit an avoidance of habitats shortly after fire, a preference for burned habitats between five and ten years after burning, and no preference ten years and beyond a fire event. Individual movement patterns showed avoidance of burned edges contiguous to development features, e.g. roads or housing developments, suggesting potentially negative synergistic effects between fire disturbance and habitat fragmentation. In fire-prone environments, multiple corridor options and fuel management activities may be necessary to conserve connectivity. Linkages should also be evaluated in the context of how land use change coupled with climate change may affect connectivity.
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