Wildlife Research Wildlife Research Society
Ecology, management and conservation in natural and modified habitats

Evaluating habitat quality of vertebrates using conservation physiology tools

Jessica A. Homyack

Virginia Tech, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.
Current address: Weyerhaeuser NR Company, 1785 Weyerhaeuser Road, Vanceboro, NC 28586, USA.
Email: jessica.homyack@weyerhaeuser.com

Wildlife Research 37(4) 332-342 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR08093
Submitted: 16 June 2008  Accepted: 19 April 2010   Published: 28 June 2010


Studies examining how wildlife populations perceive and respond to habitat are common, and many attempt to understand how the quality of available habitats influences population processes such as survival and recruitment. Traditional methods to estimate habitat quality (e.g. population density) have not led to great advancement in our understanding of relationships between habitat and fitness in recent years. Metrics from the discipline of conservation physiology could help researchers to address these difficulties and to meet the challenges that habitat alteration poses to biodiversity. Incorporating physiological metrics that relate energetics or environmental stress to habitats may be powerful measures of habitat quality. By quantifying field metabolic rates, body condition, or concentrations of stress hormones in individual organisms, researchers may identify mechanisms associated with habitat that underlie observed patterns in vital rates (survival and fecundity). Physiological metrics offer useful tools that may identify mechanisms of habitat quality and detect the causes of declines in biodiversity. However, integration among physiologists, ecologists and conservation biologists will require new partnerships and approaches to respond to complex ecological issues.

Additional keywords: biotelemetry, body condition, endocrine response, energetics, habitat selection, stress.


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