Date of Award

Fall 2023

Project Type


Program or Major

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

Degree Name

Master of Science

First Advisor

Remington J Moll

Second Advisor

Rebecca Rowe

Third Advisor

Nathan Furey


Spatial ecology is a central component of ecological inquiry. In an ever-changing world facing threats including climate change, human sprawl, and novel zoonotic diseases, understanding how animals use space and make habitat decisions can be invaluable to research, management, and conservation of animal species. The techniques and technology used in spatial ecology have advanced continuously over time to provide increasingly detailed data and analyses and mitigate potential statistical biases. However, there remain many potential biases that warrant further attention in the discipline of spatial ecology. This is especially true for conceptual biases, or biases inherent to the ways in which data are viewed, processed, and analyzed, and whose effects are often not conspicuous during the modeling process. In this thesis, I explored three such biases that are seemingly underappreciated within the spatial ecology discipline – spatial scale, individual variation, and nonlinearity. In Chapter One, I used a dataset of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) to examine the impacts of spatial scale and individual variation on models of habitat selection, and how these biases may work synergistically with each other. In Chapter Two, I reviewed contemporary literature to investigate how frequently ecologists were exploring and addressing nonlinearity in their research. I then illustrated the impacts of nonlinearity with two case studies using occupancy models of passerine birds and abundance models of mesocarnivores. Here, my coauthors and I found that the biases of spatial scale, individual variation, and nonlinearity are not only influential to the numerical outputs of spatial modeling, but when unaddressed can lead to differing and potentially inaccurate conclusions. The techniques we used in this thesis to address these biases also allow for new insights into animal ecology to be drawn that were obscured by the more conventional approaches.