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Models to predict the distribution and abundance of breeding ducks in Canada

Publication Type: Scientific

Author: Barker, N. K. S., S. G. Cumming, and M. Darveau

Date: 2014

Detailed knowledge of waterfowl abundance and distribution across Canada is lacking, which limits our ability to effectively conserve and manage their populations. We used 15 years of data from an aerial transect survey to model the abundance of 17 species or species groups of ducks within southern and boreal Canada. We included 78 climatic, hydrological, and landscape variables in Boosted Regression Tree models, allowing flexible response curves and multiway interactions among variables. We assessed predictive performance of the models using four metrics and calculated uncertainty as the coefficient of variation of predictions across 20 replicate models. Maps of predicted relative abundance were generated from resulting models, and they largely match spatial patterns evident in the transect data. We observed two main distribution patterns: a concentrated prairie-parkland distribution and a more dispersed pan-Canadian distribution. These patterns were congruent with the relative importance of predictor variables and model evaluation statistics among the two groups of distributions. Most species had a hydrological variable as the most important predictor, although the specific hydrological variable differed somewhat among species. In some cases, important variables had clear ecological interpretations, but in some instances, e.g., topographic roughness, they may simply reflect chance correlations between species distributions and environmental variables identified by the model-building process. Given the performance of our models, we suggest that the resulting prediction maps can be used in future research and to guide conservation activities, particularly within the bounds of the survey area.

Barker, N. K. S., S. G. Cumming, and M. Darveau. 2014. Models to predict the distribution and abundance of breeding ducks in Canada. Avian Conservation and Ecology 9(2):7.

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