Paper Of The Week: Loehle et al. 2015. Range-wide analysis of northern spotted owl nesting habitat relations

8 Apr

For my choice of paper of the week this week, I’ve selected one on species distribution modelling (SDM). SDM is becoming  increasingly  widely used in management and conservation, and it is often seen as a cheaper and faster alternative to conducting dedicated surveys to look for a specific species in hard-to-reach parts of the world. However, while species distribution modelling is really simple in theory, applying it in a biologically meaningful way can be very difficult. As a result, great care needs to be taken when running an SDM study, and it is important that the predictive ability of the model is properly and thoroughly validated in some way, preferably using an independent data set, before the predicted distributions are used for any conservation or management purposes.

It is for this reason, that I’ve selected Loehle et al. 2005. Range-wide analysis of northern spotted owl nesting habitat (Forest Ecology and Management, 342: 8–20) as the paper of the week. This paper takes an existing SDM for northern spotted owls (a threatened species from western North America) which was created to help conservation and management efforts and investigates it to see if it is actually suitable for this purpose. What they found as part of their detailed analysis was that the existing SDM model did not perform well when tested against an independent data set, and that caution should be used when using the SDM’s predicted distribution for conservation and management purposes.

Loehle et al. (2015) is a really good example of how model validation should be done as part of any SDM study, and it demonstrates nicely how a SDM study does not necessarily end when the initial prediction is made. If you are considering using SDMs for any conservation or management purposes, I would highly recommend reading this study to help you understand why independent validation is so important, and how it can be conducted.

Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology

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