Landscape complexity persists as a critical source of bias in terrestrial animal home range estimation


Home ranges provide a conceptual and quantitative representation of animal-habitat associations over time. Methods to estimate home ranges have swiftly progressed by dynamically accounting for various sources of bias. Across that period of growth, one potentially influential source of bias has yet to be robustly scrutinized. Animals inhabiting the terrestrial spatial domain make movement decisions in environments with variable landscape complexity. Despite that reality, home range estimation methods tend to be informed by two-dimensional (2D) data (i.e., X and Y coordinates) which analytically presume that these landscapes are flat. This analytical tendency potentially misrepresents the configuration and size of animal home range estimates. To examine the prevalence of this bias, we reviewed literature of terrestrial animal home range estimation published between 2000 and 2019. We recorded the proportion of studies that; i) recognized and ii) incorporated landscape complexity. Over 22.0% (n = 271) of the 1,203 studies recognized the importance of landscape complexity for animal movement. Interestingly, just 0.7% (n = 8) incorporated landscape complexity into the home range estimation. We infer then that landscape complexity represents an important source of bias resulting in the underestimation of terrestrial animal home range size. Given the influence of landscape complexity on terrestrial animal decision-making, energetics, and fitness our analysis highlights an important gap in current home range methodologies. We discuss the implications of our analysis for biased understandings of terrestrial animal spatial ecology with subsequent impacts on management and conservation practices built upon these estimates.

Waldemar Ortiz-Calo
Waldemar Ortiz-Calo
MSc Student

My research interests are focused on animal spatial ecology, human-widlife interactions, and applied research that informs wildlife conservation.