Harsh, S., A. Gregory, and R. C. Lonsinger. 2022. Habitat amount or landscape configuration: Emerging HotSpot analysis reveals the importance of habitat amount for a grassland bird in South Dakota. PloS ONE 17(9): e0274808. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0274808.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are two important drivers of biodiversity decline. Understanding how species respond to landscape composition and configuration in dynamic landscape is of great importance for informing the conservation and management of grassland species. With limited conservation resources, prescribed management targeted at the appropriate landscape process is necessary for effective management of species. We used pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) across South Dakota, USA as a model species to identify environmental factors driving spatiotemporal variation in population productivity. Using an emerging Hotspot analysis, we analyzed annual count data from 105 fixed pheasant brood routes over24-year period to identify high (HotSpot) and low (ColdSpot) pheasant population productivity areas. We then applied classification and regression tree modeling to evaluate landscape attributes associated with pheasant productivity among spatial scales (500 m and 1000 m). We found that the amount of grassland at a local spatial scale was the primary factor influencing an area being a HotSpot. Our results also demonstrated non-significant or weak effects of fragmentation per se on pheasant populations. These findings are in accordance with the habitat amount hypothesis highlighting the importance of habitat amount in the landscape for maintaining and increasing the pheasant population. We, therefore, recommend that managers should focus on increasing the total habitat area in the landscape and restoring degraded habitats. Our method of identifying areas of high productivity across the landscape can be applied to other species with count data.