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A Method for Quantifying Consistency in Animal Distributions Using Survey Data

Author:
Heath, Joel P.  Montevecchi, William A.  Esler, Daniel  


Journal:
PLOS ONE


Issue Date:
2012


Abstract(summary):

The degree of consistency with which groups of animals use the landscape is determined by a variety of ecological processes that influence their movements and patterns of habitat use. We developed a technique termed Distributional Consistency that uses survey data of unmarked individuals to quantify temporal consistency in their spatial distribution, while accounting for changes in population size. Distributional consistency is quantified by comparing the observed distribution patterns to all theoretically possible distribution patterns of observed individuals, leading to a proportional score between 0 and 1, reflecting increasingly consistent use of sites within a region. The technique can be applied to survey data for any taxa across a range of spatial and temporal scales. We suggest ways in which distributional consistency could provide inferences about the dispersal and habitat decisions of individuals, and the scales at which these decisions operate. Distributional consistency integrates spatial and temporal processes to quantify an important characteristic of different habitats and their use by populations, which in turn will be particularly useful in complimenting and interpreting other ecological measures such as population density and stability. The technique can be applied to many existing data sets to investigate and evaluate a range of important ecological questions using simple survey data.


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