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Using Bayesian networks to incorporate uncertainty in habitat suitability index models


  • George F. Wilhere

    Corresponding author
    1. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Habitat Program, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091, USA
    • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Habitat Program, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091, USA.
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  • Associate Editor: Bret Collier.


Habitat suitability index (HSI) models rarely characterize the uncertainty associated with their estimates of habitat quality despite the fact that uncertainty can have important management implications. The purpose of this paper was to explore the use of Bayesian belief networks (BBNs) for representing and propagating 3 types of uncertainty in HSI models—uncertainty in the suitability index relationships, the parameters of the HSI equation, and measurement of habitat variables (i.e., model inputs). I constructed a BBN–HSI model, based on an existing HSI model, using Netica™ software. I parameterized the BBN's conditional probability tables via Monte Carlo methods, and developed a discretization scheme that met specifications for numerical error. I applied the model to both real and dummy sites in order to demonstrate the utility of the BBN–HSI model for 1) determining whether sites with different habitat types had statistically significant differences in HSI, and 2) making decisions based on rules that reflect different attitudes toward risk—maximum expected value, maximin, and maximax. I also examined effects of uncertainty in the habitat variables on the model's output. Some sites with different habitat types had different values for E[HSI], the expected value of HSI, but habitat suitability was not significantly different based on the overlap of 90% confidence intervals for E[HSI]. The different decision rules resulted in different rankings of sites, and hence, different decisions based on risk. As measurement uncertainty in habitat variables increased, sites with significantly different (α = 0.1) E[HSI] became statistically more similar. Incorporating uncertainty in HSI models enables explicit consideration of risk and more robust habitat management decisions. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.

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