The protean relationship between boreal forest landscape structure and red squirrel distribution at multiple spatial scales
This paper investigates two fundamental questions in landscape ecology: what influence does landscape context, or the composition of the matrix, have on an animals’ response to landscape structure, and how does this relationship extrapolate between landscapes? We investigate how the distribution of North American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) in the boreal mixedwood forest is influenced by anthropogenically (forest harvest) and naturally (forest fire) derived landscape structure. We studied the presence and absence of red squirrels over two years in three landscape types: one managed for timber harvest, one recently burned by wildfire, and a third unburned unmanaged landscape. Landscape composition and configuration, measured at several spatial scales, predicted red squirrel’s distribution in all three landscapes, but the significant landscape variables changed across spatial scales, across time, and across landscapes. These findings emphasize the variability in landscape structure/animal distribution relationships, and enforce the need to link pattern-finding studies, such as this one, with searches for the mechanisms behind the observed pattern.