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Species distribution modeling in regions of high need and limited data: waterfowl of China

March 1, 2018


A number of conservation and societal issues require understanding how species are distributed on the landscape, yet ecologists are often faced with a lack of data to develop models at the resolution and extent desired, resulting in inefficient use of conservation resources. Such a situation presented itself in our attempt to develop waterfowl distribution models as part of a multi-disciplinary team targeting the control of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus in China.


Faced with limited data, we built species distribution models using a habitat suitability approach for China’s breeding and non-breeding (hereafter, wintering) waterfowl. An extensive review of the literature was used to determine model parameters for habitat modeling. Habitat relationships were implemented in GIS using land cover covariates. Wintering models were validated using waterfowl census data, while breeding models, though developed for many species, were only validated for the one species with sufficient telemetry data available.


We developed suitability models for 42 waterfowl species (30 breeding and 39 wintering) at 1 km resolution for the extent of China, along with cumulative and genus level species richness maps. Breeding season models showed highest waterfowl suitability in wetlands of the high-elevation west-central plateau and northeastern China. Wintering waterfowl suitability was highest in the lowland regions of southeastern China. Validation measures indicated strong performance in predicting species presence. Comparing our model outputs to China’s protected areas indicated that breeding habitat was generally better covered than wintering habitat, and identified locations for which additional research and protection should be prioritized.


These suitability models are the first available for many of China’s waterfowl species, and have direct utility to conservation and habitat planning and prioritizing management of critically important areas, providing an example of how this approach may aid others faced with the challenge of addressing conservation issues with little data to inform decision making.

Publication Year 2018
Title Species distribution modeling in regions of high need and limited data: waterfowl of China
DOI 10.1186/s40657-018-0099-4
Authors Diann J. Prosser, Changqing Ding, R. Michael Erwin, Taej Mundkur, Jeffery D. Sullivan, Erle C. Ellis
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Avian Research
Index ID 70195819
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center