Integrating socioecological suitability with human-wildlife conflict risk: case study for translocation of a large ungulate.
Translocations are essential for re-establishing wildlife populations. As they sometimes fail, it is critical to assess factors that influence their success pre-translocation. Socioecological suitability models (SESMs) integrate social acceptance and ecological suitability to enable identification of areas where wildlife populations will expand, which makes it likely that SESMs will also be useful for predicting translocation success. To inform site selection for potential elk Cervus canadensis reintroduction to north-eastern Minnesota, United States, we developed broadscale maps of social acceptance from surveys of local residents and landowners, animal use equivalence (AUE) from forage measured in the field and empirical conflict risk from geospatial data. Resulting SESMs integrated social acceptance favourability scores, AUE and conflict risk, and weighted SESMs showed the relative influences of acceptance and conflict. Social acceptance was positive for local residents and landowners (mean ≥ 5.4; scale of 1-7). AUE (scaled to an elk home range) ranged between 1 and 9 elk/16 km2 during winter, and from 14 to 83 elk/16 km2 during summer. Human-elk conflict risk was low (mean ≤ 0.10; scaled 0-1), increasing from north to south. Geographical distributions differed for social acceptance, AUE and conflict risk, and weighted SESMs revealed unsuitable areas that were otherwise obscured. Synthesis and applications. Integrating human-wildlife conflict risk into SESMs shows where social acceptance of translocated species is likely to erode, even where viewed favourably pre-translocation, to inform translocation planning by highlighting interactions between key factors. Such integrated models supplement existing reintroduction biology frameworks by supporting decision-making and knowledge development. In north-eastern Minnesota, natural resource managers who are considering elk reintroductions are using SESMs reported here to identify where human-elk conflict is unlikely to result in an isolated elk population and where addressing concerns for area residents about conflict risk is essential.