||The desert kit fox (Vulpes macrotis arsipus) is an uncommon to rare inhabitant of
the Mojave and Colorado deserts in California. This previously low-key subspecies
is now being threatened by a suite of direct and indirect impacts due to the rapid
increase in large-scale industrial renewable energy development in important habitat
areas. This study attempts to assess habitat selection by desert kit foxes in Chuckwalla
Valley, CA, in the context of the increasing presence of solar energy project sites
in the area.
An Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) was used to assess desert kit fox burrow and vegetation
density from aerial imagery, and line-transect surveys were conducted to assess desert
kit fox scat, prey, and predator densities. The presence of localized land development
and an existing Habitat Suitability Index were assessed using GIS. The relationship
between these variables and the desert kit foxes was assessed by fitting Generalized
Linear Models. I found that ecological predictors of desert kit fox habitat occupancy
gauged by burrow density can contradict those of habitat use gauged by scat density.
Thus, habitat suitability and habitat connectivity may be impacted differently by
land development. Proximity to development directly influenced habitat occupancy and
use models as well. The Habitat Suitability Index based on widely accepted desert
kit fox ecology was strongly contradicted by regression results and individual observations.
In addition, coyote presence was found to negatively impact habitat occupancy and
use, which suggests that water availability associated with land development may indirectly
impact desert kit foxes. I conclude that current knowledge and the assumptions of
cumulative impacts of land development are inadequate for the assessment of the impacts
of large-scale renewable energy development in desert kit fox habitat.