Generality of models that predict the distribution of species: Conservation activity and reduction of model transferability for a threatened bustard

Thomas N. E. Gray, Ro Borey, Seng Kim Hout, Hong Chamnan, Nigel J. Collar, Paul M. Dolman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Predictive models can help clarify the distribution of poorly known species but should display strong transferability when applied to independent data. Nevertheless, model transferability for threatened tropical species is poorly studied. We built models predicting the incidence of the critically endangered Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) within the Tonle Sap (TLS) floodplain, Cambodia. Separate models were constructed with soil, land-use, and landscape data and species incidence sampled over the entire floodplain (12,000 km 2) and from the Kompong Thom (KT) province (4000 km2). In each case, the probability of Bengal Florican presence within randomly selected 1 × 1 km squares was modeled by binary logistic regression with multimodel inference. We assessed the transferability of the KT model by comparing predictions with observed incidence elsewhere in the floodplain. In terms of standard model-validation statistics, the KT model showed good spatial transferability. Nevertheless, it overpredicted florican presence outside the KT calibration region, classifying 491 km2 as suitable habitat compared with 237 km2 predicted as suitable by the TLS model. This resulted from higher species incidence within the calibration region, probably owing to a program of conservation education and enforcement that has reduced persecution there. Because both research and conservation activity frequently focus on areas with higher density, such effects could be widespread, reducing transferability of predictive distribution models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-439
Number of pages7
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Cite this