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

Response of a cryptic apex predator to a complete urban to forest gradient

Bronwyn Isaac A , John White A , Daniel Ierodiaconou B and Raylene Cooke A C

A School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, 221 Burwood Highway, Burwood, Vic. 3125, Australia.

B School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Princes Highway, Warrnambool, Vic. 3280, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: raylene.cooke@deakin.edu.au

Wildlife Research 40(5) 427-436 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR13087
Submitted: 13 May 2013  Accepted: 29 August 2013   Published: 24 September 2013

Abstract

Context: Urbanisation is one of the most damaging landscape-scale disturbance processes leading to significant and potentially irreversible changes in biodiversity. How apex predators respond to urbanisation is poorly understood, largely because of their low density and low detectability. Given the important functional roles of apex predators in ecosystems, it is critical that research investigates how they respond to urbanisation, and how urban systems can be designed to better support apex predators.

Aims: The present research aims to examine how an avian apex predator, the powerful owl, responds to a complete urban–forest gradient in southern Victoria, Australia. Specifically, the research aims to understand the environmental attributes that drive habitat suitability for powerful owls across the urban–forest gradient.

Methods: Using a total of 683 independent field- and atlas-derived records of powerful owls across the study site, the research takes a presence-only modelling approach. The presence points were modelled against a series of geospatial variables that were determined a priori on the basis of the known ecology of powerful owls.

Key results: Potential powerful owl habitat declined in a dramatic fashion in response to increasing levels of urbanisation, ranging from 76% of the forest landscape to 21% of the urban landscape. Powerful owl habitat availability across the urban–forest gradient is positively influenced by tree cover, productivity (normalised difference vegetation index) and proximity to river systems and riparian vegetation.

Conclusions: Presence-only modelling has provided a useful way for investigating the response of an apex predator to a gradient of urbanisation. Although powerful owl habitat availability is negatively reduced by urbanisation, there is significant scope to manage urban landscapes to either maintain or improve the availability of habitat across the gradient.

Implications: High resource-requiring species, such as apex predators, have the capacity to be detrimentally affected by urbanisation processes. Presence-only modelling, however, provides a useful tool for investigating how these difficult-to-detect species are affected by urbanisation, and ultimately inform how landscapes can be managed to maximise habitat availability for apex predators.

Additional keywords:: land cover, Maxent, powerful owl, riparian.


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