As part of the model improvement effort for the 2023 Coastal Master Plan, the Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) models used during previous master plans were reevaluated to assess how the model relationships could be improved, and to determine what species should be included in the master plan analyses. This process considered the technical reviews, comments, and suggested improvements provided by model developers, advisory groups, and other experts during previous master plans. Reviews were then conducted to determine the availability of data and information that could be used to make model improvements. As a result of this effort, a recommended list of relevant species to model is provided, and HSI model improvements are recommended that are categorized by whether the suitability index (SI) relationship to be improved is statistical-based or literature-based.
The species recommended to be included in the 2023 Coastal Master Plan analyses are: eastern oyster, brown shrimp, white shrimp, blue crab, crayfish, gulf menhaden, spotted seatrout, largemouth bass, American alligator, gadwall, mottled duck, brown pelican, seaside sparrow, and bald eagle. These species were selected because they represent a range of taxonomies, life histories, trophic levels, and habitats, and most are commercially- or recreationally-important in coastal Louisiana. Most of these species were also included in the 2017 Coastal Master Plan analyses, and the models used during that effort should be further improved. Seaside sparrow and bald eagle are new for the master plan, and new models should be developed for the analyses.
The 2017 fish, shrimp, and blue crab HSI models included a water quality SI that was based on statistical analyses of species catch and environmental data collected by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. As suggested during the 2017 Coastal Master Plan, the modeling approach used to develop the water quality SI was revisited and alternate modeling approaches were explored. Using literature and an evaluation of the general steps of model development, three components for HSI model improvement were identified, including 1) selecting alternative modeling approach(es); 2) detecting and resolving statistical issues; and 3) improving model fit and evaluation. Multiple options for each component were explored, which resulted in a proposed multi-step phased approach for model improvement. This proposed approach entails improving the generalized linear models used for the 2017 water quality SIs and then, if desired, comparing them to alternative model approaches (e.g., generalized additive models) to explore model performance and select the best approach to use for the 2023 Coastal Master Plan HSI models.
All of the existing master plan HSI models include literature-based SIs, which use information from published studies of species-habitat associations to derive suitability relationships. Similar to previous master plans, these literature-based SIs should be updated and improved for the 2023 Coastal Master Plan using recent literature and new ecological knowledge. Preliminary reviews were conducted and recent information was found that could be used to improve the eastern oyster, crayfish, and potentially brown pelican HSI models; but no appropriate recent literature was located for improvement of the American alligator, gadwall, and mottled duck HSI models. However, it is recommended that the literature reviews and information searches be continued. In addition to the statistical-based water quality SI, the 2017 fish, shrimp, and blue crab HSI models also included a structural habitat SI that was based on literature showing high densities of these species in fragmented marsh. The relationship used for this SI, however, did not account for the effects of other estuarine habitats, such as submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster reefs, which are also important to these species. Therefore, a meta-analysis approach is proposed that would estimate the relative importance of these habitats for each species, and the results of this analysis could be used to calculate a new structural habitat SI for the 2023 Coastal Master Plan.