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The Hyper-Envelope Modeling Interface (HEMI): A Novel Approach Illustrated Through Predicting Tamarisk (<i>Tamarix</i> spp.) Habitat in the Western USA

October 1, 2013

Habitat suitability maps are commonly created by modeling a species’ environmental niche from occurrences and environmental characteristics. Here, we introduce the hyper-envelope modeling interface (HEMI), providing a new method for creating habitat suitability models using Bezier surfaces to model a species niche in environmental space. HEMI allows modeled surfaces to be visualized and edited in environmental space based on expert knowledge and does not require absence points for model development. The modeled surfaces require relatively few parameters compared to similar modeling approaches and may produce models that better match ecological niche theory. As a case study, we modeled the invasive species tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) in the western USA. We compare results from HEMI with those from existing similar modeling approaches (including BioClim, BioMapper, and Maxent). We used synthetic surfaces to create visualizations of the various models in environmental space and used modified area under the curve (AUC) statistic and akaike information criterion (AIC) as measures of model performance. We show that HEMI produced slightly better AUC values, except for Maxent and better AIC values overall. HEMI created a model with only ten parameters while Maxent produced a model with over 100 and BioClim used only eight. Additionally, HEMI allowed visualization and editing of the model in environmental space to develop alternative potential habitat scenarios. The use of Bezier surfaces can provide simple models that match our expectations of biological niche models and, at least in some cases, out-perform more complex approaches.