Novel methods for species distribution mapping including spatial models in complex regions
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Species Distribution Modelling (SDM) plays a key role in a number of biological applications: assessment of temporal trends in distribution, environmental impact assessment and spatial conservation planning. From a statistical perspective, this thesis develops two methods for increasing the accuracy and reliability of maps of density surfaces and provides a solution to the problem of how to collate multiple density maps of the same region, obtained from differing sources. From a biological perspective, these statistical methods are used to analyse two marine mammal datasets to produce accurate maps for use in spatial conservation planning and temporal trend assessment. The first new method, Complex Region Spatial Smoother [CReSS; Scott-Hayward et al., 2013], improves smoothing in areas where the real distance an animal must travel (`as the animal swims') between two points may be greater than the straight line distance between them, a problem that occurs in complex domains with coastline or islands. CReSS uses estimates of the geodesic distance between points, model averaging and local radial smoothing. Simulation is used to compare its performance with other traditional and recently-developed smoothing techniques: Thin Plate Splines (TPS, Harder and Desmarais ), Geodesic Low rank TPS (GLTPS; Wang and Ranalli ) and the Soap lm smoother (SOAP; Wood et al. ). GLTPS cannot be used in areas with islands and SOAP can be very hard to parametrise. CReSS outperforms all of the other methods on a range of simulations, based on their fit to the underlying function as measured by mean squared error, particularly for sparse data sets. Smoothing functions need to be flexible when they are used to model density surfaces that are highly heterogeneous, in order to avoid biases due to under- or over-fitting. This issue was addressed using an adaptation of a Spatially Adaptive Local Smoothing Algorithm (SALSA, Walker et al. ) in combination with the CReSS method (CReSS-SALSA2D). Unlike traditional methods, such as Generalised Additive Modelling, the adaptive knot selection approach used in SALSA2D naturally accommodates local changes in the smoothness of the density surface that is being modelled. At the time of writing, there are no other methods available to deal with this issue in topographically complex regions. Simulation results show that CReSS-SALSA2D performs better than CReSS (based on MSE scores), except at very high noise levels where there is an issue with over-fitting. There is an increasing need for a facility to combine multiple density surface maps of individual species in order to make best use of meta-databases, to maintain existing maps, and to extend their geographical coverage. This thesis develops a framework and methods for combining species distribution maps as new information becomes available. The methods use Bayes Theorem to combine density surfaces, taking account of the levels of precision associated with the different sets of estimates, and kernel smoothing to alleviate artefacts that may be created where pairs of surfaces join. The methods were used as part of an algorithm (the Dynamic Cetacean Abundance Predictor) designed for BAE Systems to aid in risk mitigation for naval exercises. Two case studies show the capabilities of CReSS and CReSS-SALSA2D when applied to real ecological data. In the first case study, CReSS was used in a Generalised Estimating Equation framework to identify a candidate Marine Protected Area for the Southern Resident Killer Whale population to the south of San Juan Island, off the Pacific coast of the United States. In the second case study, changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of harbour porpoise and minke whale in north-western European waters over a period of 17 years (1994-2010) were modelled. CReSS and CReSS-SALSA2D performed well in a large, topographically complex study area. Based on simulation results, maps produced using these methods are more accurate than if a traditional GAM-based method is used. The resulting maps identified particularly high densities of both harbour porpoise and minke whale in an area off the west coast of Scotland in 2010, that might be a candidate for inclusion into the Scottish network of Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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