Lawler, J.J. and N.H. Schumaker. 2004. Evaluating habitat as a surrogate for population viability using a spatially explicit population model. Environ. Mont. Assess. 94:85-100. WED 04-001
Because data for conservation planning are always limited, surrogates are often substituted for intractable measurements such as species richness or population viability. We examined the ability of habitat quality to act as a surrogate for population performance for both Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) and Northern Goshawks (Accipiter gentiles). We compared simple measures of habitat quality to estimates of population growth rates obtained from a spatially explicit model of population dynamics. We found that habitat quality was a relatively poor predictor of simulated population growth rates for several reasons. First, a relatively small proportion of the potential habitat for each species served as population sources in our simulations —15% for Red-shouldered Hawks and 2% for Goshawks. Second, when habitat quality correctly predicted demographic sources on the landscape, it consistently underestimated the contribution of these areas to the population. In areas where habitat quality correctly anticipated the presence of demographic sinks, we found no useful quantitative relationship between the two measures. Our simulation model captured the influence of habitat quality on the hawk populations, but it also incorporated interactions between dispersing individuals and landscape patterns. Thus, the discrepancies we observed likely reflected the influence of forest fragmentation and the spatial arrangement of forest patches on the populations. We conclude that simple measures of habitat quality will often be poor surrogates for population persistence, but that spatially explicit population models can help inform the development of better indices.