The habitat sampling and analysis paradigm has limited value in animal conservation: A prequel Academic Article uri icon


  • In this essay, I make the case that our studies of wildlife and habitat are largely decoupled from any meaningful relationship to the distribution of the study species. The field that we broadly classify as wildlife-habitat relationships is characterized by an increasing number of studies that gather additional data on phenomena that are already well studied. I offer that unless we make changes to the fundamental aspect of study design, our studies will fail to advance conservation of species. The current habitat sampling and analysis paradigm involves identification of a convenient study area, drawing samples from the usual list of parameters, conducting a series of statistical analyses, comparing findings to other studies, and justifying publication by extrapolating findings to some unspecified larger area. Recommendations for management are usually vague and are seldom tested for efficacy. Most of our habitat studies have little relevance to the target species with regard to viability. Attempts to translate the "best scientific information" into a set of management guidelines for a species produce one size fits all documents. I describe how we usually compromise our studies well before data collection by failing to establish a cogent framework for sampling from an ecologically meaningful unit of a population, but rather sample based on funding priorities and convenience. Specifying the sampling universe for a species sets the stage for properly establishing the sampling frame. Although we always have a target population, that target is often the result of personal, political, or administrative interest, but has little to do with biological reality. I review various intraspecies levels that could be a focus for study, including subspecies and especially ecotypes. Although making assumptions about our study species and habitat parameters is a necessary step, carrying forward untested assumptions from previous studies and failing to test new ones substantially negates the application of research results to meaningful management actions. I include recommendations for enhancing studies of wildlife and habitat with the intent of altering the current norm of wildlife-habitat studies. 2012 The Wildlife Society. Copyright The Wildlife Society, 2012.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Morrison, M. L.

citation count

  • 34

complete list of authors

  • Morrison, Michael L

publication date

  • April 2012