Many studies employ ecological niche models (ENMs) to predict species' occurrences in undersampled regions, generally without field confirmation. Here, we use field surveys to test the relative utility of four potential refinements to the standard ENM approach: 1) altering model complexity based on AICc, 2) selecting background points from a biologically informed region, 3) using target-group background to account for sampling bias in existing localities, and 4) using many rangewide localities (global model) versus fewer proximal localities (local model) to construct geographically restricted range predictions. We used Maxent to predict new localities for the California tiger salamander Ambystoma californiense, an endangered species that often goes undocumented due to its cryptic lifestyle. We followed this with a field survey of 260 previously unsampled potential breeding sites in Solano County, CA and used the resulting presence/absence data to compare all factorial combinations of the four model refinements using a new application of the Kruskal-Wallis test for ENM outputs. Our field surveys led to the discovery of 81 previously undocumented breeding localities for the California tiger salamander and demonstrated that ENMs could be significantly improved by utilizing target-group background to account for spatial sampling bias and local models to focus model output on the subregion of the range being surveyed. Our results clearly demonstrate the potential for local models to outperform global models, and we recommend supplementing traditional Maxent global models that utilize all known localities with local models, particularly when species occupy geographically structured, heterogeneous habitat types. We also recommend using target-group background since the improvement we observed when including it in our models was significant and very similar to that documented by previous studies. Most importantly, we emphasize the importance of field verification to enable rigorous statistical comparisons among models.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics