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A critical assessment of two species distribution models: a case study of the vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops)

Authors


*Erik P. Willems, Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail: e.p.willems@durham.ac.uk

Abstract

Aim  Species distribution models are invaluable tools in biogeographical, ecological and applied biological research, but specific concerns have been raised in relation to different modelling techniques in terms of their validity. Here we compare two fundamentally different approaches to species distribution modelling, one based on simple occurrence data where the lack of an ecological framework has been criticized, and the other firmly based in socio-ecological theory but requiring highly detailed behavioural information that is often limited in availability.

Location  (Sub-Saharan) Africa.

Methods  We used two distinct techniques to predict the realized distribution of a model species, the vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops Linnaeus, 1758). A maximum entropy model was produced taking 13 environmental variables and presence-only data from 174 sites throughout Africa as input, with an additional 58 sites retained to test the model. A time-budget model considering the same environmental variables was constructed from detailed behavioural data on 20 groups representing 14 populations, with presence-only data from the remaining 218 sites reserved to test model predictions on vervet monkey occurrence. Both models were further validated against a reference species distribution map as drawn up by the African Mammals Databank.

Results  Both models performed well, with the time budget and maximum entropy algorithms correctly predicting vervet monkey presence at 78.4% and 91.4% of their respective test sites. Similarly, the time-budget model correctly predicted presence and absence at 87.4% of map pixels against the reference distribution map, and the maximum entropy model achieved a success rate of 81.8%. Finally, there was a high level of agreement (81.6%) between the presence–absence maps produced by the two models, and the environmental variables identified as most strongly driving vervet monkey distribution were the same in both models.

Main conclusions  The time-budget and maximum entropy models produced accurate and remarkably similar species distribution maps, despite fundamental differences in their conceptual and methodological approaches. Such strong convergence not only provides support for the credibility of current results, but also relieves concerns about the validity of the two modelling approaches.

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