Public Library of Science
School of Natural Sciences
Species distribution models (SDMs) are an effective way of predicting the potential distribution of species and their response to environmental change. Most SDMs apply presence data to a relatively generic set of predictive variables such as climate. However, this weakens the modelling process by overlooking the responses to more cryptic predictive variables. In this paper we demonstrate a means by which data gathered from an intensive animal trapping study can be used to enhance SDMs by combining field data with bioclimatic modelling techniques to determine the future potential distribution for the koomal (Trichosurus vulpecula hypoleucus). The koomal is a geographically isolated subspecies of the common brushtail possum, endemic to south-Western Australia. Since European settlement this taxon has undergone a significant reduction in distribution due to its vulnerability to habitat fragmentation, introduced predators and tree/shrub dieback caused by a virulent group of plant pathogens of the genus Phytophthora. An intensive field study found: 1) the home range for the koomal rarely exceeded 1 km in in length at its widest point; 2) areas heavily infested with dieback were not occupied; 3) gap crossing between patches (>400 m) was common behaviour; 4) koomal presence was linked to the extent of suitable vegetation; and 5) where the needs of koomal were met, populations in fragments were demographically similar to those found in contiguous landscapes. We used this information to resolve a more accurate SDM for the koomal than that created from bioclimatic data alone. Specifically, we refined spatial coverages of remnant vegetation and dieback, to develop a set of variables that we combined with selected bioclimatic variables to construct models. We conclude that the utility value of an SDM can be enhanced and given greater resolution by identifying variables that reflect observed, species-specific responses to landscape parameters and incorporating these responses into the model. © 2016 Molloy et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.