Monday, February 6, 2017

GIS-Based Niche Modeling for Mapping Species' Habitat

This study utilizes a "niche model" that allows for predicting the environmental factors that are most effective to anticipate the dispersal of species on a regional scale. These GIS-based models use data on an organism's role in the ecosystem or "niche" while identifying a minimum set of habitat requirements or conditions for its survival (as opposed to optimal requirements used by other studies) to compute range distribution predictions. Researchers operate under the assumption that consistent environmental variables in known habitats play a more important role in the biology and ability to disperse than variables that fluctuate more readily among known habitats and have no biological deleterious effects. Comparing these trends in niche and minimum habitat requirements among different species can provide insight into common responses to environmental factors by organisms that occupy a similar eco-region. This allows ecologist to better understand relationships that different species have with a given habitat.

Researchers that use this type of niche modeling to guide their studies can achieve enhanced sampling and monitoring strategies of species with the ability to better understand how different species may respond to both anthropogenic and natural environmental change. An additional important implication of these modeling tools is the enhanced capacity to identify smaller zones within a region that are of particular importance for the conservation of threatened species. These significant areas (regarded as critical habitat zones when dealing with threatened species) can be prioritized once they are identified to ultimately increase the effectiveness of preservation efforts and ensure funding is used in the most precise manner to sustain these habitats and the species they foster.

This niche model from the paper provides an example of how environmental data can be used to predict the distribution of a species of interest (California Gnatcatchers in this case) throughout suitable habitats in a region of Southern California.

FIG. 1. Full-rank ecological niche model [D2 (y; 1)] for California Gnatcatchers based on 21 environmental variables. Habitat similarity to known, occupied locations increases as the color darkens.

Rotenberry, J. T., Preston, K. L., & Knick, S. T. (2006). GIS‐BASED NICHE MODELING FOR MAPPING SPECIES'HABITAT. Ecology, 87(6), 1458-1464.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I am curious about the possible differences between rural and urban niches. Once these habitats are identified, how do we address the threatened species in different areas? I also wonder if there is something specific about that area of Southern California. I find this study intriguing, as it seems like it could definitely help conservationist efforts.