Assessing the influence of ecological interaction patterns among habitat types on species distribution: studying the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus Temminck 1827) in central Spain

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Context Species distribution models (SDMs) usually describe the landscape through single landcover types as explicative and independent variables. However, species distribution responds to ecological processes that are represented in spatial patterns of landcovers, which are not usually considered in SDMs. Objectives From the hypothesis that Iberian lynx occurrence will depend on landscape functioning and that spatial organisation of landcovers is a reliable indicator of landscape functionality, we built a SDM based on landscape structure, to: (i) assess the relevance that spatial organisation of landcovers has for SDMs; (ii) describe the suitable landscape for the presence/conservation of the Iberian lynx. Methods Spatial organisation of landscape is identified by recognising landscape mosaics, which are sets of patches with a similar pattern of boundaries. We identified landscape mosaics within western area of the province of Madrid. Then, we used field-collected lynx scats to test if species’ preferences are related to landscape mosaics. Results The species shows its preference for two out of eight identified mosaics. It shows preference for mosaics with low human-modified holm oak forests, but it does not show rejection of traditional land-uses such as pasture or non-intensive agriculture. The relevance of watercourses was also shown, since two of four mosaics with characteristic riparian vegetation prove to be relevant in the model. Conclusions As landscape includes spatial interactions (boundaries) among landcovers it is a more holistic descriptor than single landcovers. This contributes to increase SDMs performance and usefulness for designing more accurate conservation actions, compared to those based on single landcover composition.