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Lynx habitat selection is heavily influenced by human disturbance

In a recent study, experts have found that human presence is a major contributing factor in lynx habitat selection. The researchers noted that large predators require more space, which makes them especially sensitive to human disturbance.

Led by Dr. Marco Heurich and Joseph Premier, conservation biologists at the University of Freiburg, the team studied the process of habitat selection in Eurasian lynx. 

“Habitat selection is a multi-scale process driven by trade-offs between benefits, such as resource abundance, and disadvantages, such as the avoidance of risk. The latter includes human disturbances, to which large carnivores, with their large spatial requirements, are especially sensitive,” explained the study authors.

“We investigated the ecological processes underlying multi-scale habitat selection of a large carnivore, namely Eurasian lynx, across European landscapes characterized by different levels of human modification.”

The researchers analyzed data on 125 lynx from nine areas throughout Europe. The team looked at locations that were available to lynx, and compared them to sites that were actually being used by the wild cats.

The experts used a machine learning approach called the random forest to examine lynx habitat selection on two scales: the landscape scale and the home range scale. The landscape scale shows how the animals adopt their home range in the larger landscape, and the home range scale shows how lynx select habitats within their range. 

The study showed that, on the landscape scale, lynx avoid roads and human settlements. On the home range scale, the cats seemed to prioritize the availability of prey and hiding places. 

The greatest differences in lynx habitat selection were apparent at the landscape level, where it became clear that lynx sought out areas that provided protection from human disturbance.

According to the experts, their research will provide important information for the conservation of lynx in human-dominated landscapes. “Through this study, we can generalize the habitat selection behavior of a large carnivore species on a continental scale for the first time,” explained Dr. Heurich.

The study is published in the journal Biological Conservation 

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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