One size does not fit all: European bison habitat selection across herds and spatial scales


Understanding habitat selection can be challenging for species surviving in small populations, but is needed for landscape-scale conservation planning. We assessed how European bison (Bison bonasus) habitat selection, and particularly forest use, varies across subpopulations and spatial scales. We gathered the most comprehensive European bison occurrence dataset to date, from five free-ranging herds in Poland. We compared these data to a high-resolution forest map and modelled the influence of environmental and human-pressure variables on habitat selection. Around 65% of European bison occurrences were in forests, with cows showing a slightly higher forest association than bulls. Forest association did not change markedly across spatial scales, yet differed strongly among herds. Modelling European bison habitat suitability confirmed forest preference, but also showed strong differences in habitat selection among herds. Some herds used open areas heavily and actively selected for them. Similarly, human-pressure variables were important in all herds, but some herds avoided human-dominated areas more than others. Assessing European bison habitat across multiple herds revealed a more generalist habitat use pattern than when studying individual herds only. Our results highlight that conflicts with land use and people could be substantial if bison are released in human-dominated landscapes. Future restoration efforts should target areas with low road and human population density, regardless of the degree of forest cover. More broadly, our study highlights the importance of considering multiple subpopulations and spatial scales in conservation planning.

Landscape Ecology, 33(9) 1559-1572
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab
Christian Levers
PhD student
Benjamin Bleyhl
PhD student & Postdoctoral Researcher