Collaborative Research: Modeling the Tradeoffs within Food-, Fear-, and Thermal-Scapes to Explain Habitat Use by Mammalian Herbivores Grant uri icon



  • Because natural landscapes are changing rapidly, understanding the factors that determine how organisms select both habitats and resources remains a central question in ecology. Theory predicts that animals can balance the costs posed by food quantity or quality, predation risk, and the physical environment, but few studies have adequately assessed how multiple variables interact at spatial and temporal scales that are functionally relevant to a foraging animal. This research offers a new and synthetic approach to understand functional links between habitat features and habitat use. It combines behavioral, nutritional, chemical, spatial, and physiological ecology to evaluate comprehensively the factors that influence habitat use by generalist and specialist herbivores: two species of rabbits. Tradeoffs among four habitat features (nutrients in food, toxins in food, security cover, and thermal cover) will be measured in the laboratory and under natural field conditions to model and compare the functional importance of these features. The investigators will integrate results to predict resource selection and infer habitat quality when organisms are faced with complex decisions in natural environments.

    This research develops a new method for quantifying habitat value in a relatively simple system that will enhance predictions of the consequences of environmental change in more complex systems. It includes a novel educational model that trains graduate, undergraduate, and high school students who will conduct research collaboratively across three universities, participate in a tiered mentoring program, and engage with the community and regional biologists. This research and educational program is designed to broaden the scientific experience of students, to foster collaborations between academia, land management agencies and the public, and to contribute to society by providing models that predict how animals will alter their use of habitats in rapidly changing ecosystems.

date/time interval

  • June 1, 2012 - May 31, 2016

total award amount

  • 334,177