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Dealing with uncertain absences in habitat modelling: a case study of a rare ground-dwelling parrot

Authors

  • Lesley Gibson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, Science Division, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia, 6946 Australia,
      Correspondence: Dr Lesley Gibson, Department of Environment and Conservation, Science Division, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia, 6946 Australia. E-mail: lesleyg@dec.wa.gov.au
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  • Brent Barrett,

    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, 120 Albany Highway, Albany, Western Australia, 6330 Australia
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    • **

      Present address: 5 Max Short Drive, Pukekohe, Auckland, 1800 New Zealand.

  • Allan Burbidge

    1. Department of Environment and Conservation, Science Division, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia, 6946 Australia,
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Correspondence: Dr Lesley Gibson, Department of Environment and Conservation, Science Division, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia, 6946 Australia. E-mail: lesleyg@dec.wa.gov.au

ABSTRACT

In the development of a species distribution model based on regression techniques such as generalized linear or additive modelling (GLM/GAM), a basic assumption is that records of species presence and absence are real. However, a common concern in many studies examining species distributions is that absences cannot be inferred with certainty. This is particularly the case where the species is rare, difficult to detect and/or does not occupy all available habitat considered suitable. The western ground parrot (Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris) of southern Western Australia, Australia, is a case in point, as not only is it rare and difficult to detect, but it is also unlikely to occupy all available suitable habitat. A recent survey of ground parrots provided the opportunity to develop a predictive distribution model. As the data were susceptible to false absences, these were replaced with randomly selected ‘pseudo’ absences and modelled using GLM. As a comparison, presence-only information was modelled using a relatively new approach, MAXENT, a machine-learning technique that has been shown to perform comparatively well. The predictive performance of both models, as assessed by the receiver operating characteristic plot (ROC) was high (AUC > 0.8), with MAXENT performing only marginally better than the GLM. These approaches both indicated that the ground parrot prefers areas relatively high in altitude, distant from rivers, gently sloping to level habitat, with an intermediate cover of vegetation and where there is a mosaic of vegetation ages. In this case, the use of presence-only information resulted in the identification of important environmental attributes defining the occurrence of the ground parrot, but additional factors that account for the inability of the bird to occupy all suitable habitat should be a component of model refinement.

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