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Carnivore Richness and Diversity in western Kansas
Context Human-modified landscapes can structure species’ distributions and supplant traditional biotic range-limiting processes. Understanding the direction and scale of these processes is necessary to enhance species conservation efforts. Objectives We investigated how the distribution of a prairie-obligate carnivore, swift fox (Vulpes velox), is influenced by landscape pattern at the eastern edge of their used range. We also assessed the effects of a popular conservation effort, the conservation reserve program (CRP), on swift fox distributions. Methods We used three years of detection/non-detection data (2018–2020) from camera traps at 381 sites to evaluate the spatial distribution of swift foxes at the eastern edge of their extant range in Kansas, USA. We used Gaussian Kernel functions to identify optimal scales of effect for measured landscape covariates and multiseason use models to reveal potential range-limiting constraints. Results Swift foxes were more likely to occur at sites with moderate landcover diversity within 254.47 ha, greater proportion of shortgrass prairie (7.07 ha) and loamy soil types (0.79 ha), and lower proportions of CRP landcover (78.54 ha). Swift foxes were more likely to colonize sites with less diverse landcover, a greater proportion of loamy soil types, and lower proportions of CRP landcover. Swift foxes were insensitive to the proportion of row-crop agriculture surrounding sites (3.14 ha). Conclusions Loamy soils and distribution of shortgrass prairie ecosystems may shape the periphery of the distribution for swift foxes. Landscape-scale use of CRP may constrain swift fox distributions at their range edge because managed vegetation structure of CRP does not mimic native shortgrass prairie.