Paper Of The Week: Padie et al. 2015. Roe deer at risk: teasing apart habitat selection and landscape constraints in risk exposure at multiple scales

3 Apr

There is an area of research which I find very interesting, and this is predator risk effects. For those of you that don’t know what this is, I’ll briefly explain. Predator risk effects are the effects that predators can have on their prey. Some of these are obvious, like death and consumption, but others are not, such as the fact that the risk of predation can result in an increased risk of starvation because the mere presence of a predator results in its potential prey carrying less body fat so that they’ll find it easier to out-run the predator when it attacks.

Another option, and this is where the spatial ecology element comes in, is to change the way that the potential prey move through and use the landscape around them. However, these spatial elements of predator risk effects are rarely studied. This, then, is the reason that I’ve selected a recent paper by Padie et al. titled Roe deer at risk: teasing apart habitat selection and landscape constraints in risk exposure at multiple scales as my paper of the week for this week. In their study, Padie et al. used a combination of habitat mapping and GPS-tracking of individual roe deer to test a number of hypotheses about how the deer would respond to hunting by humans. What they found is that the deer not only modify they way that they use the habitat within their individual home ranges in relation to the risk of predation, but also that the deer showed a greater response when they lived in a more open landscape than when they lived in landscapes with more refuges.

The main reason that I particularly like this paper is that it shows that GIS and spatial ecology isn’t something that should be done in isolation, but rather that they are important tools that can be used to help biologists explore a wide variety of fields, theories and hypotheses. In fact, there are probably few area of biology that wouldn’t benefit from an increased use of the ever-increasing number of tools which are available to help explore spatial aspects of almost any data set, yet this does not always happen. This, in part, is because GIS and spatial ecology are often approached as if they are a specific field in their own right, rather than as tools which can, and should, be integrated into all aspects of biological research.

If you’re interested in seeing how GIS and spatial ecology can be used in new and interesting ways to answer specific research questions in areas where they have not traditionally been used, then I’d definitely recommend reading Padie at al. Of course, it’s also interesting to read in its own right because of the way its findings help us understand how the presence of predators can influence the way that animals use their environment.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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