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Predicting habitat distribution and frequency from plant species co-occurrence data


*Christine Römermann, Institute of Botany, University of Regensburg, D-93040 Regensburg, Germany.


Aim  Species frequency data have been widely used in nature conservation to aid management decisions. To determine species frequencies, information on habitat occurrence is important: a species with a low frequency is not necessarily rare if it occupies all suitable habitats. Often, information on habitat distribution is available for small geographic areas only. We aim to predict grid-based habitat occurrence from grid-based plant species distribution data in a meso-scale analysis.

Location  The study was carried out over two spatial extents: Germany and Bavaria.

Methods  Two simple models were set up to examine the number of characteristic plant species needed per grid cell to predict the occurrence of four selected habitats (species data from FlorKart, Both models were calibrated in Bavaria using available information on habitat distribution, validated for other federal states, and applied to Germany. First, a spatially explicit regression model (generalized linear model (GLM) with assumed binomial error distribution of response variable) was obtained. Second, a spatially independent optimization model was derived that estimated species numbers without using spatial information on habitat distribution. Finally, an additional uncalibrated model was derived that calculated the frequencies of 24 habitats. It was validated using NATURA2000 habitat maps.

Results  Using the Bavarian models it was possible to predict habitat distribution and frequency from the co-occurrence of habitat-specific species per grid cell. As the model validations for other German federal states were successful, the models were applied to all of Germany, and habitat distribution and frequencies could be retrieved for the national scale on the basis of habitat-specific species co-occurrences per grid cell. Using the third, uncalibrated model, which includes species distribution data only, it was possible to predict the frequencies of 24 habitats based on the co-occurrence of 24% of formation-specific species per grid cell. Predicted habitat frequencies deduced from this third model were strongly related to frequencies of NATURA2000 habitat maps.

Main conclusions  It was concluded that it is possible to deduce habitat distributions and frequencies from the co-occurrence of habitat-specific species. For areas partly covered by habitat mappings, calibrated models can be developed and extrapolated to larger areas. If information on habitat distribution is completely lacking, uncalibrated models can still be applied, providing coarse information on habitat frequencies. Predicted habitat distributions and frequencies can be used as a tool in nature conservation, for example as correction factors for species frequencies, as long as the species of interest is not included in the model set-up.