Identifying ecologically relevant scales of habitat selection: Diel habitat selection in elk: Diel

Caleb P. Roberts, James W. Cain, Robert D. Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Although organisms make resource selection decisions at multiple spatiotemporal scales, not all scales are ecologically relevant to any given organism. Ecological patterns and rhythms such as behavioral and climatic patterns may provide a consistent method for identifying ecologically relevant scales of habitat selection. Using elk (Cervus canadensis) as an example species, we sought to test the ability of behavioral patterns to empirically partition diel scales for modeling habitat selection. We used model selection to partition diel scales by shifts in dominant behavior and then used resource selection probability functions to model elk habitat selection hierarchically at diel scales within seasons. Model selection distinguished four diel temporal partitions following elk crepuscular behavioral patterns: dawn, midday, dusk, and night. Across seasons, model-averaged coefficients indicated that elk shifted from selecting grassland cover at dawn/dusk, to selecting for greater canopy and forest cover at midday, and then to areas with greater herbaceous biomass at night. Top models changed between diel intervals in spring and fall but stayed the same across diel intervals in winter and summer. In winter, elk selected for southern aspects during midday, for unburned areas at dawn/dusk, and for areas burned within 1-3 yr at dawn/dusk and night. In spring, elk selected for northern aspects and for areas burned within 1-3 yr at midday, for areas farther from roads at dawn/dusk and midday, and for areas farther from water at midday. In summer, elk changed diel preferences for fewer covariates: At dawn/dusk and midday, elk selected for areas farther from water and avoided forest cover, and at night, elk selected for areas burned within 1-3 yr. In fall, elk selected for areas burned the previous year at dawn/dusk and night, for higher elevations at midday, and for areas closer water at night. Using behavioral patterns to identify ecologically relevant scales can help identify overlooked habitat requirements such as diel changes in preference for fire history, forage availability, and cover. We show that the ecological relevancy of a given scale (e.g., a diel temporal scale) can change throughout a given extent (e.g., across seasons).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02013
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Cervus canadensis
  • behavior
  • diel
  • elk
  • habitat selection
  • resource selection probability function
  • scale
  • season


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