Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Animal Movement in a Changing World
by Nuñez, Tristan A., Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2017, 81; 10687243
Abstract (Summary)

Animal movement influences ecological and biogeographical dynamics, and studying it reveals helpful insights at a time when anthropogenic activities have accelerated rates of climatic and land cover change. This dissertation addresses three fundamental questions in ecology and biogeography linked to the movement and distribution of animals. First, how do animal movements affect their environments? Second, how do the effects of land use change interact with atmospheric climate change to alter species distributions? Third, how do organisms track their climatic niches through time and space? Each question is addressed with a separate study, each generating methods and results with implications for future academic work, management, and conservation.

In the first study, I tracked the daily movements of the common hippopotamus, Hippopotamus amphibius, a megaherbivore that transports nutrient-rich biomass between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. I developed a spatially explicit biomass transfer model that relates rates of ingestion and egestion to movement behavior states derived from the movement data. The biomass transfer model revealed the process by which H. amphibius generates patterned landscapes of nutrient removal and deposition hotspots. In addition, the model generated maps of these nutrient transfer landscapes, making it possible to explore the spatial dynamics of nutrient transfers, and showing that the amount of biomass transferred reaches levels equivalent to rates of aboveground net primary productivity. In addition to revealing the influences of H. amphibius on ecosystem ecology, this study also provided metrics of home range size, habitat use, and movement behavior useful for conservation planning.

The first study provides a method for nutrient transfer mapping which could be applied to many other species, and leverages increasing quantities of high-resolution movement tracking data to map transfers of nutrients across landscapes. This can help predict the landscape-scale ecological changes resulting from the loss of animal movements that provide nutrient transfers. The approach can also be used to map other material transport dynamics, such as animal-transported seed dispersal or the movement of persistent organic pollutants.

In the second study, I used species distribution modeling to identify the interacting effects of climate and land use change on the distribution of H. amphibius. Hydrologic change is likely to result from ongoing shifts from rain-fed to irrigated agriculture across much of sub-Saharan Africa, where H. amphibius occurs. A lack of spatial data on hydrology, especially data temporally consistent with atmospheric climate datasets, has made it difficult to build species distribution models for semiaquatic species, such as H. amphibius, which are physiologically dependent on surface water. I overcame this challenge by coupling a simple hydrologic model to scenarios of land use and climate change, identifying potential effects on H. amphibius distributions. I found that increased levels of streamflow abstraction from irrigation will lead to much greater declines in H. amphibius habitat suitability than arise from scenarios of climate change alone. I also contrasted predictions of H. amphibius distributions that incorporated only atmospheric climate variables to predictions that also incorporated hydrologic variables, and found significant improvements in model performance when hydrology was incorporated.

The second study provides support for using predictive variables with strong mechanistic links to the physiology or ecology of the focal species when building species distribution models. The study also outlines a way to generate surfaces of key hydrologic variables from the climate surfaces commonly used for species distribution modeling. These surfaces have the potential to greatly improve forecasts generated by other semiaquatic species distribution models. From a conservation perspective, the second study highlights the potential for substantial losses of H. amphibius habitat across Africa as a result of increases in irrigation development. Other semiaquatic species in the region, as well as those dependent on the keystone ecological role of H. amphibius and its nutrient-transporting movements, may be similarly affected.

In the third study, I explored the role of movement in shaping species distributions in variable climates. Climatic variability at multiple time scales causes suitable climatic conditions to shift across geographic space. Recent scholarship has proposed that two species traits, the ability to colonize suitable locations, referred to as dispersal, and the ability to continue to occupy an area with unsuitable conditions, referred to as persistence, facilitate niche tracking, the process by which species follow suitable conditions moving through geographic space. By developing a model that simulates niche tracking through historically observed patterns of temporal and spatial variability, I quantified how different dispersal and persistence abilities affect niche tracking potential. I found that both dispersal and persistence facilitate niche tracking, and that small increases in persistence ability result in surprisingly large increases in niche tracking potential.

The third study makes two main contributions to ecological niche theory and distribution modeling. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Brashares, Justin S.
Commitee: Barnosky, Anthony D., Getz, Wayne M.
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Environmental Science, Policy, & Management
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 79/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Wildlife Conservation, Ecology, Climate Change, Zoology
Keywords: Ecological niche theory, Global change, Hippopotamus amphibius, Movement ecology, Nutrient transfer, Species distribution modeling
Publication Number: 10687243
ISBN: 978-0-355-83182-5
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