On the generality of habitat distribution models: a case study of capercaillie in three Swiss regions


  • Roland F. Graf,

  • Kurt Bollmann,

  • Sébastien Sachot,

  • Werner Suter,

  • Harald Bugmann

R. F. Graf (roland.graf@alumni.ethz.ch), K. Bollmann and W. Suter, Swiss Federal Research Inst. WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland. – S. Sachot, Centre de conservation de la faune et de la nature du canton de Vaud, Chemin du Marquisat 1, CH-1025 St-Sulpice, Switzerland. – H. Bugmann, Forest Ecology, Dept of Environmental Sciences, Swiss Federal Inst. of Technology Zürich ETH, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland. (Present address of R. F. G.: UFZ – Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-Halle, Dept of Ecological Modelling, Permoserstr. 15, D-04318 Leipzig, Germany.)


Predictive habitat distribution models are normally assumed to sacrifice generality for precision and reality. Nevertheless, such models are often applied to predict the distribution of a species outside the area for which the model has been calibrated.

We investigated how the geographic extent of the data used for calibration influenced the performance of habitat distribution models applied on independent data. We took a multi-scale logistic regression approach by varying the grain size to develop six habitat models for capercaillie Tetrao urogallus in Switzerland: three regional models, for the northern Pre-Alps, eastern Central Alps and Jura mountains, respectively, and three pooled models, each using data from two of the three regions. The six models were validated with data from the region(s) not used for model building. We used Cohen's Kappa and the area under the receiver operating characteristics curve as accuracy measures. The regional models performed well in the region where they had been calibrated, but poorly to moderately well in the other regions. The pooled models classified almost as well in their calibration regions as the corresponding regional models, but generally better when validated on data from the independent region. Hence, models built with data from single regions provide less certain predictions of species’ distributions in other regions. We recommend building more general models using data pooled from several regions, when the aim is to predict species’ distributions in independent regions.