Wildlife biologists use current land-cover databases to understand wildlife—habitat relationships but must make assumptions about potential vegetation and successional dynamics when predicting species responses to ecological changes. Understanding the potential of habitat types to provide wildlife habitat components throughout succession, as opposed to solely examining current suitability with land cover, has important implications for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) management as challenges such as overabundance and diseases emerge. Our objectives were to develop a process to identify and delineate habitat-type boundaries, determine successional pathways, develop landscape-scale models to quantify deer habitat potential, and describe how habitat-potential models could be used in planning. We delineated habitat-type boundaries and identified successional pathways using digital vegetation and geologic databases and information from the literature for an 8,100-km2 area in northeastern Lower Michigan. We identified deer habitat requirements from the literature; constructed models to quantify fall and winter food, thermal cover, and spring and summer habitat suitability throughout succession; and projected suitability throughout the study area spatially and temporally. Regional differences in habitat types (e.g., poorly drained coniferous types in the northern portion and dry—mesic deciduous or mixed coniferous—deciduous types in the southern portion of the study area) determined regional differences in habitat potential. Generally in the study area, fall and winter food suitability was highest during early (<30 years)- and mid-successional stages (30–100 years), thermal-cover suitability was highest in middle stages, and spring and summer habitat suitability was highest in early stages. The process presented can help managers define wildlife management goals through an understanding of landscape composition, the spatial arrangement and successional changes of habitat types, and their relationship to populations.
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