Establishing the link between habitat selection and animal population dynamics

Jason Matthiopoulos, John Fieberg, Geert Aarts, Hawthorne L. Beyer, Juan M. Morales, Daniel T. Haydon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Although classical ecological theory (e.g., on ideal free consumers) recognizes the potential effect of population density on the spatial distribution of animals, empirical species distribution models assume that species-habitat relationships remain unchanged across a range of population sizes. Conversely, even though ecologicalmodels and experiments have demonstrated the importance of spatial heterogeneity for the rate of population change, we still have no practical method for making the connection between the makeup of real environments, the expected distribution and fitness of their occupants, and the long-termimplications of fitness for population growth. Here, we synthesize several conceptual advances into a mathematical framework using a measure of fitness to link habitat availability/selection to (density-dependent) population growth in mobile animal species. A key feature of this approach is that it distinguishes between apparent habitat suitability and the true, underlying contribution of a habitat to fitness, allowing the statistical coefficients of both to be estimated frommultiple observation instances of the species in different environments and stages of numerical growth. Hence, it leverages data from both historical population time series and snapshots of species distribution to predict population performance under environmental change. We propose this framework as a foundation for building more realistic connections between a population's use of space and its subsequent dynamics (and hence a contribution to the ongoing efforts to estimate a species' critical habitat and fundamental niche). We therefore detail its associated definitions and simplifying assumptions, because they point to the framework's future extensions. We show how the model can be fit to data on species distributions and population dynamics, using standard statistical methods, and we illustrate its application with an individual-based simulation. When contrasted with nonspatial population models, our approach is better at fitting and predicting population growth rates and carrying capacities. Our approach can be generalized to include a diverse range of biological considerations. We discuss these possible extensions and applications to real data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-436
Number of pages24
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 by the Ecological Society of America.


  • Accessibility
  • Climate change
  • Conservation
  • Density dependence
  • Generalized functional response
  • Generalized linear model
  • Habitat suitability
  • Ideal free distribution
  • Mathematical model
  • Resource selection function
  • Simulation
  • Species distribution models


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