LiDAR reveals a preference for intermediate visibility by a forest-dwelling ungulate species

Xin Zong*, Tiejun Wang, Andrew K. Skidmore, Marco Heurich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


1. Visibility (viewshed) plays a significant and diverse role in animals' behaviour and fitness. Understanding how visibility influences animal behaviour requires the measurement of habitat visibility at spatial scales commensurate to individual animal choices. However, measuring habitat visibility at a fine spatial scale over a landscape is a challenge, particularly in highly heterogeneous landscapes (e.g. forests). As a result, our ability to model the influence of fine-scale visibility on animal behaviour has been impeded or limited. 

2. In this study, we demonstrate the application of the concept of three-dimensional (3D) cumulative viewshed in the study of animal spatial behaviour at a landscape level. Specifically, we employed a newly described approach that combines terrestrial and airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to measure fine-scale habitat visibility (3D cumulative viewshed) on a continuous scale in forested landscapes. We applied the LiDAR-derived visibility to investigate how visibility in forests affects the summer habitat selection and the movement of 20 GPS-collared female red deer Cervus elaphus in a temperate forest in Germany. We used integrated step selection analysis to determine whether red deer show any preference for fine-scale habitat visibility and whether visibility is related to the rate of movement of red deer. 

3. We found that red deer selected intermediate habitat visibility. Their preferred level of visibility during the day was substantially lower than that of night and twilight, whereas the preference was not significantly different between night and twilight. In addition, red deer moved faster in high-visibility areas, possibly mainly to avoid predation and anthropogenic risk. Furthermore, red deer moved most rapidly between locations in the twilight. 

4. For the first time, the preference for intermediate habitat visibility and the adaption of movement rate to fine-scale visibility by a forest-dwelling ungulate species at a landscape scale was revealed. The LiDAR technique used in this study offers fine-scale habitat visibility at the landscape level in forest ecosystems, which would be of broader interest in the fields of animal ecology and behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1306-1319
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number7
Early online date22 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • fine-scale visibility
  • habitat selection
  • integrated step selection analysis
  • movement rate
  • red deer
  • viewshed


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