• Defining Landscape Resistance Values in Least-Cost Connectivity Models for the Invasive Grey Squirrel: A Comparison of Approaches Using Expert-Opinion and Habitat Suitability Modelling

      Stevenson, Claire D.; Watts, Kevin; Bellamy, Chloe; Nevin, Owen T.; Ramsey, Andrew; University of Derby (PLOS, 2014-11-07)
      Least-cost models are widely used to study the functional connectivity of habitat within a varied landscape matrix. A critical step in the process is identifying resistance values for each land cover based upon the facilitating or impeding impact on species movement. Ideally resistance values would be parameterised with empirical data, but due to a shortage of such information, expert-opinion is often used. However, the use of expert-opinion is seen as subjective, human-centric and unreliable. This study derived resistance values from grey squirrel habitat suitability models (HSM) in order to compare the utility and validity of this approach with more traditional, expert-led methods. Models were built and tested with MaxEnt, using squirrel presence records and a categorical land cover map for Cumbria, UK. Predictions on the likelihood of squirrel occurrence within each land cover type were inverted, providing resistance values which were used to parameterise a leastcost model. The resulting habitat networks were measured and compared to those derived from a least-cost model built with previously collated information from experts. The expert-derived and HSM-inferred least-cost networks differ in precision. The HSM-informed networks were smaller and more fragmented because of the higher resistance values attributed to most habitats. These results are discussed in relation to the applicability of both approaches for conservation and management objectives, providing guidance to researchers and practitioners attempting to apply and interpret a leastcost approach to mapping ecological networks.
    • Using GPS telemetry to validate least-cost modeling of gray squirrel ( Sciurus carolinensis) movement within a fragmented landscape

      Stevenson, Claire D.; Ferryman, Mark; Nevin, Owen T.; Ramsey, Andrew; Bailey, Sallie; Watts, Kevin; University of Cumbria; Forest Research UK (Wiley, 2013)
      In Britain, the population of native red squirrels Sciurus vulgaris has suffered population declines and local extinctions. Interspecific resource competition and disease spread by the invasive gray squirrel Sciurus carolinensis are the main factors behind the decline. Gray squirrels have adapted to the British landscape so efficiently that they are widely distributed. Knowledge on how gray squirrels are using the landscape matrix and being able to predict their movements will aid management. This study is the first to use global positioning system (GPS) collars on wild gray squirrels to accurately record movements and land cover use within the landscape matrix. This data were used to validate Geographical Information System (GIS) least-cost model predictions of movements and provided much needed information on gray squirrel movement pathways and network use. Buffered least-cost paths and least-cost corridors provide predictions of the most probable movements through the landscape and are seen to perform better than the more expansive least-cost networks which include all possible movements. Applying the knowledge and methodologies gained to current gray squirrel expansion areas, such as Scotland and in Italy, will aid in the prediction of potential movement areas and therefore management of the invasive gray squirrel. The methodologies presented in this study could potentially be used in any landscape and on numerous species.