Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Natural Resources

First Advisor

James D. Murdoch

Abstract

Landscape change affects the distribution of wildlife and represents a conservation concern, especially in Asia, which is experiencing rapid development. In Mongolia, mining, livestock grazing, infrastructure development and climate change represent major drivers of change that will impact habitats and few tools exist to predict how wildlife will respond. I examined the impacts of landscape change on the corsac fox (Vulpes corsac) in a steppe region of Mongolia. The corsac fox occurs widely throughout northern Asia, but has experienced declines in many regions and remains one the least studied canids. I addressed two questions: 1) how do common features of a landscape, such as habitats, topography, herder camps, and roads, shape the distribution of the species? and 2) how will changes in those features affect distribution in the future? I collected locations of foxes from radio-collared animals, scat surveys, and opportunistic sightings in Ikh Nart Nature Reserve, then used maximum likelihood methods and model selection techniques to develop a model that predicts occupancy probability. I then applied the model to simulations of landscape change. I collected 1,965 locations and examined 19 candidate models. The model with the most support indicated that occupancy is best described by the additive combination of shrublands, open plains, tall grasslands, and rocky habitat. Models with other covariates (camps, roads, and ruggedness) had little support. A Receiver-Operator-Characteristic plot of model performance had an Area Under the Curve of 77%, indicating that the model predicted occupancy better than expected by chance. Average occupancy across the reserve was 22% under current conditions. Incremental reductions in shrubland, open plains, and tall vegetation resulted in occupancy declines with average occupancy being 7%, 13%, and 14%, respectively, when these habitats were completely absent. The loss of all three habitats due to the desertification of the landscape through climate change resulted in an average occupancy of 7%. The results provide the first model of corsac fox occupancy, which can be used to quantitatively examine distribution and impacts of change in other parts of the species' range. In Ikh Nart, results suggest that climate change poses the greatest threat to the species as it is expected to reduce high quality habitats and confine corsac foxes to areas with high competition from red foxes.

Language

en

Number of Pages

89 p.