Visual information can influence animal behavior and habitat use in diverse ways. Visibility is the property that relates 3D habitat structure to accessibility of visual information. Despite the importance of visibility in animal ecology, this property remains largely unstudied. Our objective was to assess how habitat structure from diverse environments and animal position within that structure can influence visibility. We gathered terrestrial lidar data (1 cm at 10 m) in four ecosystems (forest, shrub-steppe, prairie, and desert) to characterize viewsheds (i.e., estimates of visibility based on spatially explicit sightlines) from multiple vantage points. Both ecosystem-specific structure and animal position influenced potential viewsheds. Generally, as height of the vantage point above the ground increased, viewshed extent also increased, but the relationships were not linear. In low-structure ecosystems (prairie, shrub-steppe, and desert), variability in viewsheds decreased as vantage points increased to heights above the vegetation canopy. In the forest, however, variation in viewsheds was highest at intermediate heights, and markedly lower at the lowest and highest vantage points. These patterns are likely linked to the amount, heterogeneity, and distribution of vegetation structure occluding sightlines. Our work is the first to apply a new method that can be used to estimate viewshed properties relevant to animals (i.e., viewshed extent and variability). We demonstrate that these properties differ across terrestrial landscapes in complex ways that likely influence many facets of animal ecology and behavior.

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