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Evaluating temporal and spatial transferability of a tidal inundation model for foraging waterbirds

April 3, 2022

For ecosystem models to be applicable outside their context of development, temporal and spatial transferability must be demonstrated. This presents a challenge for modeling intertidal ecosystems where spatiotemporal variation arises at multiple scales. Models specializing in tidal dynamics are generally inhibited from having wider ecological applications by coarse spatiotemporal resolution or high user competency. The Tidal Inundation Model of Shallow-water Availability (TiMSA) uniquely simulates tides to empirically derive a time-integrated measure of availability for a shallow-water depth range defined by the user. To evaluate temporal and spatiotemporal transferability, we employed TiMSA at the development site in the Florida Keys and at novel subsites in the Florida Bay (application site) under a different time period (application period). We used foraging little blue herons (Egretta caerulea) as the ecological unit with which to constrain the model's “water depth window,” that is, range of water depths to estimate shallow-water availability. At the development site, temporally consistent water depth windows contrasted with interannual variation in shallow-water availability, which revealed short-term changes in Little Blue Heron foraging habitat. At the application site, water depth accuracy varied by subsite and was correlated with spatial error in bathymetric elevation. Although TiMSA parameters were sensitive to environmental temporal variation and uncertainty in spatial data, a spatially explicit water depth window generated reliable estimates of shallow-water conditions over space and time at the development and application sites. By exploring the contributing factors to model error, we provide solutions to reduce uncertainty of TiMSA parameters at potential application sites and recommendations for addressing bathymetric inaccuracy in digital elevation models. Accurately quantifying spatiotemporal changes of shallow water has implications for monitoring habitat conditions for tidally influenced species and projecting future changes to coastal ecosystems in response to anthropogenic stressors and natural disturbances such as sea level rise.