GIS- based niche modeling for mapping species habitat
Ecological "niche modeling" using presence-only locality data and large-scale environmental variables provides a powerful tool for identifying and mapping suitable habitat for species over large spatial extents. We describe a niche modeling approach that identifies a minimum (rather than an optimum) set of basic habitat requirements for a species, based on the assumption that constant environmental relationships in a species' distribution (i.e., variables that maintain a consistent value where the species occurs) are most likely to be associated with limiting factors. Environmental variables that take on a wide range of values where a species occurs are less informative because they do not limit a species' distribution, at least over the range of variation sampled. This approach is operationalized by partitioning Mahalanobis D (standardized difference between values of a set of environmental variables for any point and mean values for those same variables calculated from all points at which a species was detected) into independent components. The smallest of these components represents the linear combination of variables with minimum variance; increasingly larger components represent larger variances and are increasingly less limiting. We illustrate this approach using the California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica Brewster) and provide SAS code to implement it.