We need to know how plants and animals interact before we are able to conserve and protect either. Large protected areas provide an ideal sandbox to explore interactions. The blunt-nosed leopard (Gambelia sila) was one of the first endangered species federally listed, and alongside Ephedra californica or Mormon Tea, these two iconic species were examined at Carrizo Plain National Monument in California, USA using telemetry tracking and basic plant ecology. We used tracked animals for three years above and below ground. Under shrub and in the open. Over hill and desert dale. Then, we used resource selection function models to explore the relative importance of shrubs, slope, elevation, and other key attributes of the environment. These animals preferred real-estate for habitation both above and below ground (in burrows) with relatively higher proportions of shrub densities and relative cover.
Ecological field data with models such as resource selection functions can provide a means to inform value and investment strategies to either secure new protected areas or to direct the expansion of existing areas - i.e. based on relevant and available resources to indicator species. Hence, one dimension to evaluate performance of protected areas can be its capacity to provide vital resources to listed species locally. Simple interactive maps for resource selection functions that suggest where a species can live is critical first step in evidence-informed planning. Better tools can further examine specific neighborhood predictors for a population of animals. Using the real estate analogy to conclude, what you can afford to purchase in one neighborhood is not the same in another one, but identifying the salient attributes within a neighborhood is a powerful tool to guide protection of specific locations for endangered species.
Photo credits to M. Westphal.