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Predicting species distributions from checklist data using site-occupancy models
(1) To increase awareness of the challenges induced by imperfect detection, which is a fundamental issue in species distribution modelling; (2) to emphasize the value of replicate observations for species distribution modelling; and (3) to show how ‘cheap’ checklist data in faunal/floral databases may be used for the rigorous modelling of distributions by site-occupancy models. Location
We used checklist data collected by volunteers during 1999 and 2000 to analyse the distribution of the blue hawker, Aeshna cyanea (Odonata, Aeshnidae), a common dragonfly in Switzerland. We used data from repeated visits to 1-ha pixels to derive ‘detection histories’ and apply site-occupancy models to estimate the ‘true’ species distribution, i.e. corrected for imperfect detection. We modelled blue hawker distribution as a function of elevation and year and its detection probability of elevation, year and season. Results
The best model contained cubic polynomial elevation effects for distribution and quadratic effects of elevation and season for detectability. We compared the site-occupancy model with a conventional distribution model based on a generalized linear model, which assumes perfect detectability (p = 1). The conventional distribution map looked very different from the distribution map obtained using site-occupancy models that accounted for the imperfect detection. The conventional model underestimated the species distribution by 60%, and the slope parameters of the occurrence–elevation relationship were also underestimated when assuming p = 1. Elevation was not only an important predictor of blue hawker occurrence, but also of the detection probability, with a bell-shaped relationship. Furthermore, detectability increased over the season. The average detection probability was estimated at only 0.19 per survey. Main conclusions
Conventional species distribution models do not model species distributions per se but rather the apparent distribution, i.e. an unknown proportion of species distributions. That unknown proportion is equivalent to detectability. Imperfect detection in conventional species distribution models yields underestimates of the extent of distributions and covariate effects that are biased towards zero. In addition, patterns in detectability will erroneously be ascribed to species distributions. In contrast, site-occupancy models applied to replicated detection/non-detection data offer a powerful framework for making inferences about species distributions corrected for imperfect detection. The use of ‘cheap’ checklist data greatly enhances the scope of applications of this useful class of models.
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