Integrated SDM database: Enhancing the relevance and utility of species distribution models in conservation management

2021 | journal article; research paper. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Frans, Veronica F., Amélie A. Augé, Jim Fyfe, Yuqian Zhang, Nathan McNally, Hendrik Edelhoff, Niko Balkenhol, and Jan O. Engler. "Integrated SDM database: Enhancing the relevance and utility of species distribution models in conservation management​." ​Methods in Ecology and Evolution (2021): . ​


Frans, Veronica F.; Augé, Amélie A.; Fyfe, Jim; Zhang, Yuqian; McNally, Nathan; Edelhoff, Hendrik; Balkenhol, Niko ; Engler, Jan O. 
Species' ranges are changing at accelerating rates. Species distribution models (SDMs) are powerful tools that help rangers and decision-makers prepare for reintroductions, range shifts, reductions and/or expansions by predicting habitat suitability across landscapes. Yet, range-expanding or -shifting species in particular face other challenges that traditional SDM procedures cannot quantify, due to large differences between a species' currently occupied range and potential future range. The realism of SDMs is thus lost and not as useful for conservation management in practice. Here, we address these challenges with an extended assessment of habitat suitability through an integrated SDM database (iSDMdb). The iSDMdb is a spatial database of predicted sites in a species' prediction range, derived from SDM results, and is a single spatial feature that contains additional, user-friendly data fields that synthesise and summarise SDM predictions and uncertainty, human impacts, restoration features, novel preferences in novel spaces and management priorities. To illustrate its utility, we used the endangered New Zealand sea lion Phocarctos hookeri. We consulted with wildlife rangers, decision-makers and sea lion experts to supplement SDM predictions with additional, more realistic and applicable information for management. Almost half the data fields included in this database resulted from engaging with these end-users during our study. The SDM found 395 predicted sites. However, the iSDMdb's additional assessments showed that the actual suitability of most sites (90%) was questionable due to human impacts. >50% of sites contained unnatural barriers (fences, grazing grasslands), and 75% of sites had roads located within the species' range of inland movement. Just 5% of the predicted sites were mostly (>80%) protected. Integrating SDM results with supplemental assessments provides a way to address SDM limitations, especially for range-expanding or -shifting species. SDM products for conservation applications have been critiqued for lacking transparency and interpretation support, and ineffectively communicating uncertainty. The iSDMdb addresses these issues and enhances the practical relevance and utility of SDMs for stakeholders, rangers and decision-makers. We exemplify how to build an iSDMdb using open-source tools, and how to make diverse, complex assessments more accessible for end-users.
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Methods in Ecology and Evolution 
Fakultät für Forstwissenschaften und Waldökologie ; Büsgen-Institut ; Abteilung Wildtierwissenschaften 



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