Joint species distribution models of Everglades wading birds to inform restoration planning

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Abstract

Restoration of the Florida Everglades, a substantial wetland ecosystem within the United States, is one of the largest ongoing restoration projects in the world. Decision-makers and managers within the Everglades ecosystem rely on ecological models forecasting indicator wildlife response to changes in the management of water flows within the system. One such indicator of ecosystem health, the presence of wading bird communities on the landscape, is currently assessed using three species distribution models that assume perfect detection and report output on different scales that are challenging to compare against one another. We sought to use current advancements in species distribution modeling to improve models of Everglades wading bird distribution. Using a joint species distribution model that accounted for imperfect detection, we modeled the presence of nine species of wading bird simultaneously in response to annual hydrologic conditions and landscape characteristics within the Everglades system. Our resulting model improved upon the previous model in three key ways: 1) the model predicts probability of occupancy for the nine species on a scale of 0–1, making the output more intuitive and easily comparable for managers and decision-makers that must consider the responses of several species simultaneously; 2) through joint species modeling, we were able to consider rarer species within the modeling that otherwise are detected in too few numbers to fit as individual models; and 3) the model explicitly allows detection probability of species to be less than 1 which can reduce bias in the site occupancy estimates. These improvements are essential as Everglades restoration continues and managers require models that consider the impacts of water management on key indicator wildlife such as the wading bird community.

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D’Acunto, L. E., Pearlstine, L., & Romañach, S. S. (2021). Joint species distribution models of Everglades wading birds to inform restoration planning. PLoS ONE, 16(1 January). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245973

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