Practical guidance on characterizing availability in resource selection functions under a use–availability design


Habitat selection is a fundamental aspect of animal ecology, the understanding of which is critical to management and conservation. Global positioning system data from animals allow fine‐scale assessments of habitat selection and typically are analyzed in a use–availability framework, whereby animal locations are contrasted with random locations (the availability sample). Although most use–availability methods are in fact spatial point process models, they often are fit using logistic regression. This framework offers numerous methodological challenges, for which the literature provides little guidance. Specifically, the size and spatial extent of the availability sample influences coefficient estimates potentially causing interpretational bias. We examined the influence of availability on statistical inference through simulations and analysis of serially correlated mule deer GPS data. Bias in estimates arose from incorrectly assessing and sampling the spatial extent of availability. Spatial autocorrelation in covariates, which is common for landscape characteristics, exacerbated the error in availability sampling leading to increased bias. These results have strong implications for habitat selection analyses using GPS data, which are increasingly prevalent in the literature. We recommend that researchers assess the sensitivity of their results to their availability sample and, where bias is likely, take care with interpretations and use cross validation to assess robustness.