Sustaining Alaska’s Wildlife Through Landscape Mapping
Sustaining healthy herbivore populations requires us to understand their food resources across the landscape: How much food is available? Where is it located? How does nutritional quality vary across space and seasons? These questions have fascinated ecologists, wildlife managers, and hunters for decades. However, mapping food resources across large spatial scales is extremely challenging. It requires a lot of data, computing power, and technical expertise. It also requires time and experience to develop, test, and troubleshoot predictive models. Nevertheless, we believe that mapping habitat and food resources at large scales is the best way to understand Alaska’s landscapes and its wildlife populations. That’s why we’ve developed products and methods to study, analyze, and map vegetation and food resources. We’ve developed maps of percent foliar cover for 15 plant species or species aggregates in boreal and Arctic Alaska and adjacent Yukon. We’ve also developed methods – including study designs, field protocols, and repeatable code – to answer questions related to habitat use, habitat selection, and forage availability. In doing so, we hope to encourage science-informed management decisions and gain a greater understanding of the species we care so deeply about.
Amanda Droghini is a movement ecologist and the lead of the Wildlife Ecology Program. She obtained her B.S. from McGill University and her M.S. from the University of Alberta, where she studied the effects of snow conditions and snowfall events on the movements of grey wolves. Although she has always loved nature and the outdoors, it was over the course of her degree that she developed a passion for coding. She has over 7 years’ experience programming and analyzing large datasets in R. She joined ACCS in 2016 and enjoys building relationships with scientists across the state. Amanda is also the Secretary-Treasurer and Webmaster for the Alaska Chapter of The Wildlife Society.
Calving site selection of moose in Bristol Bay
Collaborators: Kassie Colson, Alaska Department of Fish & Game
For this project, we were interested in understanding habitat selection of female moose during the calving season. We developed a continuous foliar cover map for the Bristol Bay region that allowed us to quantify percent foliar cover for key forage groups like low-tall shrub willows and alder. When collecting field data, we took advantage of the area’s river corridors and used rafts, rather than using helicopters, to travel from one site to another. Our approach allowed us to collect equally rigorous data for a fraction of the cost. The final maps showed substantial spatial overlap between habitat preferences of reproductive and non-reproductive cows. However, habitat preferences of reproductive cows were more dispersed, moving away from floodplains and into forested areas and lower mountain slopes. Our results can be used to inform management actions to prioritize areas where these maternal tradeoffs are possible and therefore more likely to lead to positive fitness outcomes.
Edible biomass assessment of moose in the Alphabet Hills
Collaborators: Kristin Denryter & Don Spalinger, Wildlife Nutrition Lab, ADF&G
The objective for this project is to quantify summer food availability for moose in the Alphabet Hills region. To do so, we are producing a map of edible forage biomass using data on percent foliar cover, bite size, and bite quantity of different forage species. This map will allow us to better understand how much food available to moose in the region and how availability varies across the landscape. Moreover, because part of our study area was the target of a prescribed burn, we can use our results to understand how food availability is affected by fire history and habitat management techniques.
Work With Us
We partner with collaborators who are engaged, passionate about wildlife, and excited to move ecological research in new directions. Contact us to start a conversation: adroghini (at) alaska.edu
Publications & Datasets
Droghini, A., T.W. Nawrocki, P.A. Schuette, A. Aderman, and K. Colson. In prep. Spatial modeling of habitat preferences quantifies individual variation in maternal tradeoffs among moose in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
Nawrocki, T.W., M.L. Carlson, A.F. Wells, M.J. Macander, E. Jamie Trammell, F.D.W. Witmer, C.A. Roland, D.K. Swanson. 2021. Continuous Foliar Cover of Plant Species and Aggregates in North American Beringia. Map User Guide and Accuracy Assessment. Version 1.0 (May 2021). DOI:10.5281/zenodo.3897482
Droghini, A., and T.W. Nawrocki. 2021. Habitat Selection of Moose during Calving Season in Southwest Alaska. Git Repository. Available: https://github.com/accs-uaa/southwest-alaska-moose
Nawrocki, T.W., M.L. Carlson, J.L.D. Osnas, E.J. Trammell, and F.D.W. Witmer. 2020. Regional mapping of species-level continuous foliar cover: beyond categorical vegetation mapping. Ecological Applications. DOI:10.1002/eap.2081.
Nawrocki, T., M. Carlson, J. Osnas, J. Trammell, and F. Witmer. 2019. Foliar cover models for five common plant species in arctic Alaska circa 2014 (30 m). Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. DOI:10.5063/F1ZW1J8P.