Spatial modelling for the conservation of threatened species: distributions, habitats and landscape connectivity of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata).

Justine Murray (2009). Spatial modelling for the conservation of threatened species: distributions, habitats and landscape connectivity of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata). PhD Thesis, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland.

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Author Justine Murray
Thesis Title Spatial modelling for the conservation of threatened species: distributions, habitats and landscape connectivity of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata).
School, Centre or Institute School of Biological Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-06-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Anne Goldizen
Clive McAlpine
Hugh Possingham
Samantha Low Choy
Total pages 250
Total colour pages 20
Total black and white pages 230
Subjects 06 Biological Sciences
Abstract/Summary Ecological patterns and processes influence ecosystem function at scales from nanometres to global scales depending on the organisms involved. Predicting the presence and abundance of species, at scales appropriate to the organisms and the underlying processes, is central to ecology. Models of species’ distributions can provide important insights into pattern-process-scale relationships including the relative importance of various environmental factors and their interactions that influence habitat selection at the individual and population levels. Mapping current and potential distributions informs the conservation of threatened species by providing spatial information on where a species is likely to occur and the identification of habitat elements and their spatial configurations which influence occupancy and persistence. The aim of this thesis was to incorporate the principles of pattern, process and scale in the identification of habitat associations for threatened species within a species’ distribution modelling framework. Accurate modelling of species’ distributions depends on robust sampling designs, reliable data input and appropriate statistical methodologies that align with the ecological model. I applied a range of innovative statistical methods to various sources of data to identify important habitat associations for a threatened species at different scales and tested the discriminative ability of the resultant models. I integrated the results from extensive field sampling and expert elicitation to build connectivity networks using graph theory algorithms to identify important conservation priorities for threatened species. The threatened brush-tailed rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) was chosen as a suitable study species for quantifying habitat relationships at multiple spatial scales using species’ distribution modelling. The distribution of brush-tailed rock-wallabies is restricted to a set of suitable habitat characteristics related to rocky terrain supporting cliffs and boulder piles that occur infrequently across a landscape. At the site scale, they require suitable resting and refuge sites provided by rocky habitats, while at a landscape scale their dispersal is dependent on the connectivity of suitable habitats. The species is listed as threatened throughout eastern Australia and endangered in some states. Information about its current distribution and occupancy status is essential to support habitat conservation and threat management. The first chapter provides a broad view of the literature on modelling of species’ distributions and the thesis aims and structure. In chapter 2, I assess the ecological scale relevant to habitat modelling for the brush-tailed rock-wallaby. In chapter 3 I test whether habitat models from one region can be extrapolated to neighbouring regions. I use a novel approach and elicitation tool in chapter 4 to collect expert knowledge and assess it with a comprehensive set of field data in a Bayesian framework. In chapter 5 I assess whether landscape connectivity is a determinant of site occupancy by using graph theory algorithms to identify important habitat patches and dispersal pathways for rock-wallaby movement in fragmented landscapes. The final chapter synthesises the individual chapters’ findings within the context of species’ distribution modelling. Management implications are discussed for the conservation of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby and its habitat network. Wider implications are also suggested for other rock-wallaby species and species living in similar environments. The results of the thesis showed the habitat of the brush-tailed rock-wallaby was affected by site-scale and landscape-scale factors, supporting the need for a multi-scale approach when investigating species-environment associations. I found that models performed well within a region at both scales. Extrapolating the models to neighbouring regions resulted in good predictive performance at the site scale but substantially poorer predictive performance at the landscape scale. When there is insufficient field data to build robust data models, management bodies would benefit from incorporating expert knowledge. The study demonstrates the potential errors in using experts with knowledge gained from outside the area of interest. Finally, I highlight the importance of accounting for the landscape connectivity between patches from the perspective of the individual animal. Least cost analysis, using graph theory algorithms, provides a cost-efficient and effective framework for identifying landscape connectivity patterns and key paths and patches to help inform suitable land management strategies for conservation of threatened species. There is much pressure from conservation and management agencies to produce models of species’ distributions that could be potentially be used in other regions or with similar species. The thesis combines ecological theory with rigorous statistical methodology to test different modelling techniques for species distribution modelling. It demonstrates how a combination of expert knowledge, extensive field data and landscape connectivity measures successfully predicts ecological relationships at a number of scales. Species’ distribution models can benefit from applying a robust sampling design and suitable modelling techniques to various data sources to generate ecologically-based information to improve our understanding of species-habitat associations and provide a reliable component to incorporate into conservation planning. This thesis therefore provides important advances to spatial ecology and ecological modelling of species distributions and management of threatened species.
Keyword species distribution models
brush-tailed rock wallaby
expert elicitation

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Created: Fri, 27 Nov 2009, 22:23:23 EST by Ms Justine Murray on behalf of Library - Information Access Service