Predicting fine-scale forage distribution for ungulate nutrition
This study showed that all models provided higher predictive accuracy than chance, with an average AUC across the 20 forage species of 0.84 for distal and proximal variables and 0.81 for proximal variables only. This indicated that the addition of distal variables improved model performance. We validated the models using two independent datasets from two regions of Idaho. We found that predicted forage species occurrence was on average within 10% of observed occurrence at both sites. However, predicted occurrences had much less variability between habitat patches than the validation data, implying that the models did not fully capture fine-scale heterogeneity. We suggest that future efforts will benefit from additional fine resolution (i.e., less than 30 m) environmental predictor variables and greater accounting of environmental disturbances (i.e., wildfire, grazing) in the training data. Our approach was novel both in methodology and spatial scale (i.e., resolution and extent). Our models can inform ungulate nutrition by predicting the occurrence of forage species and aide habitat management strategies to improve nutritional quality.