Optimising long-term monitoring projects for species distribution modelling: how atlas data may help

Optimising long-term monitoring projects for species distribution modelling: how atlas data may help

Long-term biodiversity monitoring data are mainly used to estimate changes in species occupancy or abundance over time, but they may also be incorporated into predictive models to document species distributions in space. Although changes in occupancy or abundance may be estimated from a relatively limited number of sampling units, small sample size may lead to inaccurate spatial models and maps of predicted species distributions. We provide a methodological approach to estimate the minimum sample size needed in monitoring projects to produce accurate species distribution models and maps. The method assumes that monitoring data are not yet available when sampling strategies are to be designed and is based on external distribution data from atlas projects. Atlas data are typically collected in a large number of sampling units during a restricted timeframe and are often similar in nature to the information gathered from long-term monitoring projects. The large number of sampling units in atlas projects makes it possible to simulate a broad gradient of sample sizes in monitoring data and to examine how the number of sampling units influences the accuracy of the models. We apply the method to several bird species using data from a regional breeding bird atlas. We explore the effect of prevalence, range size and habitat specialization of the species on the sample size needed to generate accurate models. Model accuracy is sensitive to particularly small sample sizes and levels off beyond a sufficiently large number of sampling units that varies among species depending mainly on their prevalence. The integration of spatial modelling techniques into monitoring projects is a cost-effective approach as it offers the possibility to estimate the dynamics of species distributions in space and over time. We believe our innovative method will help in the sampling design of future monitoring projects aiming to achieve such integration

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