Scale-dependent habitat selection is shaped by landscape context in dispersing white-tailed deer

Ryan B. Stephens, Joshua J. Millspaugh, Jon T. McRoberts, David R. Heit, Kevyn H. Wiskirchen, Jason A. Sumners, Jason L. Isabelle, Remington J. Moll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: Identifying how animals select habitat while navigating landscapes is important for understanding behavioral ecology and guiding management and conservation decisions. However, habitat selection may be spatially and temporally plastic, making it challenging to quantify how species use resources across space and time. Objectives: We investigated how landscape context and dispersal shape habitat selection at multiple spatial scales in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Methods: Using step-selection functions, we quantified habitat selection of landcover and topographic covariates at three spatial scales for juvenile males during three movement periods (before, during, after dispersal) in two regions of Missouri, USA—a fragmented, low forest cover region with rolling hills, and a forested, topographically variable region. Results: Although selection for forest cover increased after dispersal in both regions, deer selected forest cover at smaller spatial scales in the fragmented, low forest cover region. This result indicates scale of selection was dependent on forest availability and configuration with deer likely perceiving landscapes differently across their distribution. Functional responses to topography differed in magnitude and direction between regions with deer avoiding roads and selecting valleys in the rolling hills region (especially during dispersal) while showing no response to roads and selecting for ridgelines (during dispersal) in the topographically variable region. This result suggests movement behavior is strongly dependent on topography. Conclusions: Although deer may select similar habitats among regions, landscape context and movement period shape the scale, strength, and direction of selection. This result has important implications for how animals use landscapes across different regional contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number84
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 30 2024


  • Movement ecology
  • Resource selection
  • Spatial scale
  • Step-selection function analysis


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