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Comparison of statistical and theoretical habitat models for conservation planning: The benefit of ensemble prediction

October 7, 2011

Selection of a modeling approach is an important step in the conservation planning process, but little guidance is available. We compared two statistical and three theoretical habitat modeling approaches representing those currently being used for avian conservation planning at landscape and regional scales: hierarchical spatial count (HSC), classification and regression tree (CRT), habitat suitability index (HSI), forest structure database (FS), and habitat association database (HA). We focused our comparison on models for five priority forest-breeding species in the Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region: Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, and Worm-eating Warbler. Lacking complete knowledge on the distribution and abundance of each species with which we could illuminate differences between approaches and provide strong grounds for recommending one approach over another, we used two approaches to compare models: rank correlations among model outputs and comparison of spatial correspondence. In general, rank correlations were significantly positive among models for each species, indicating general agreement among the models. Worm-eating Warblers had the highest pairwise correlations, all of which were significant (P , 0.05). Red-headed Woodpeckers had the lowest agreement among models, suggesting greater uncertainty in the relative conservation value of areas within the region. We assessed model uncertainty by mapping the spatial congruence in priorities (i.e., top ranks) resulting from each model for each species and calculating the coefficient of variation across model ranks for each location. This allowed identification of areas more likely to be good targets of conservation effort for a species, those areas that were least likely, and those in between where uncertainty is higher and thus conservation action incorporates more risk. Based on our results, models developed independently for the same purpose (conservation planning for a particular species in a particular geography) yield different answers and thus different conservation strategies. We assert that using only one habitat model (even if validated) as the foundation of a conservation plan is risky. Using multiple models (i.e., ensemble prediction) can reduce uncertainty and increase efficacy of conservation action when models corroborate one another and increase understanding of the system when they do not.

Publication Year 2011
Title Comparison of statistical and theoretical habitat models for conservation planning: The benefit of ensemble prediction
DOI 10.1890/10-1047.1
Authors D. Todd Jones-Farrand, Todd M. Fearer, Wayne E. Thogmartin, Frank R. Thompson, Mark D. Nelson, John M. Tirpak
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70005647
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center