Species distribution models are an important component of natural-resource conservation planning efforts. Independent, external evaluation of their accuracy is important before they are used in management contexts. We evaluated the classification accuracy of two species distribution models designed to predict the distribution of pygmy rabbit Brachylagus idahoensis habitat in southwestern Wyoming, USA. The Nature Conservancy model was deductive and based on published information and expert opinion, whereas the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database model was statistically derived using historical observation data. We randomly selected 187 evaluation survey points throughout southwestern Wyoming in areas predicted to be habitat and areas predicted to be nonhabitat for each model. The Nature Conservancy model correctly classified 39 of 77 (50.6%) unoccupied evaluation plots and 65 of 88 (73.9%) occupied plots for an overall classification success of 63.3%. The Wyoming Natural Diversity Database model correctly classified 53 of 95 (55.8%) unoccupied plots and 59 of 88 (67.0%) occupied plots for an overall classification success of 61.2%. Based on 95% asymptotic confidence intervals, classification success of the two models did not differ. The models jointly classified 10.8% of the area as habitat and 47.4% of the area as nonhabitat, but were discordant in classifying the remaining 41.9% of the area. To evaluate how anthropogenic development affected model predictive success, we surveyed 120 additional plots among three density levels of gas-field road networks. Classification success declined sharply for both models as road-density level increased beyond 5 km of roads per km-squared area. Both models were more effective at predicting habitat than nonhabitat in relatively undeveloped areas, and neither was effective at accounting for the effects of gas-energy-development road networks. Resource managers who wish to know the amount of pygmy rabbit habitat present in an area or wanting to direct gas-drilling efforts away from pygmy rabbit habitat may want to consider both models in an ensemble manner, where more confidence is placed in mapped areas (i.e., pixels) for which both models agree than for areas where there is model disagreement.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Predicting occupancy for pygmy rabbits in Wyoming: an independent evaluation of two species distribution models|
|Series title||Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management|
|Contributing office(s)||Fort Collins Science Center, Core Science Analytics, Synthesis, and Libraries|
|Online Only (Y/N)||N|
|Additional Online Files (Y/N)||N|