Fauna habitat modelling and mapping: A review and case study in the Lower Hunter Central Coast region of NSW
BRENDAN A. WINTLE,* JANE ELITH AND JOANNE M. POTTS
School of Botany, The University of Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia (Email: )
Habitat models are now broadly used in conservation planning on public lands. If implemented correctly, habitat modelling is a transparent and repeatable technique for describing and mapping biodiversity values, and its application in peri-urban and agricultural landscape planning is likely to expand rapidly. Conservation planning in such landscapes must be robust to the scrutiny that arises when biodiversity constraints are placed on developers and private landholders. A standardized modelling and model evaluation method based on widely accepted techniques will improve the robustness of conservation plans. We review current habitat modelling and model evaluation methods and provide a habitat modelling case study in the New South Wales central coast region that we hope will serve as a methodological template for conservation planners. We make recommendations on modelling methods that are appropriate when presence-absence and presence-only survey data are available and provide methodological details and a website with data and training material for modellers. Our aim is to provide practical guidelines that preserve methodological rigour and result in defendable habitat models and maps. The case study was undertaken in a rapidly developing area with substantial biodiversity values under urbanization pressure. Habitat maps for seven priority fauna species were developed using logistic regression models of species-habitat relationships and a bootstrapping methodology was used to evaluate model predictions. The modelled species were the koala, tiger quoll, squirrel glider, yellow-bellied glider, masked owl, powerful owl and sooty owl. Models ranked sites adequately in terms of habitat suitability and provided predictions of sufficient reliability for the purpose of identifying preliminary conservation priority areas. However, they are subject to multiple uncertainties and should not be viewed as a completely accurate representation of the distribution of species habitat. We recommend the use of model prediction in an adaptive framework whereby models are iteratively updated and refined as new data become available.