Arctic ground squirrels (Spermophilus parryii) are abundant, colonial, noncyclical small mammals whose within-range distribution patterns have received little scientific attention. The distribution of arctic ground squirrels may drive the abundance and spatial arrangement of other arctic ecosystem components, because they serve as a prey item, plant predator, and ecological engineer. We modeled ground squirrel habitat selection using exponential resource selection functions. To determine whether the presence of adjacent squirrel burrows influenced our indices of habitat selection, we evaluated autocovariates in our models that accounted for the predicted relative probability of ground squirrel presence within neighborhoods of various sizes around each focal area. Our models demonstrated selection by ground squirrels for well-drained substrates and sloped or convex terrain, and against wet and hummocky terrain and areas of high greenness. At a large spatial scale highly selected habitat was predicted to be more limited spatially in treed areas than in tundra. Evaluation of models incorporating autocovariates demonstrated that ground squirrel distribution was not determined by the presence of other burrows. Given observed patterns of habitat selection, climate change and attendant changes to vegetation and soils could impact the ecology of arctic ground squirrels, with consequent effects on arctic plant communities and predator–prey cycles.
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Vol. 91 • No. 5