Finding a needle in a haystack – Species Distribution Modelling

Currently regulatory guidelines provide detailed information on how to assess threatened flora and fauna species and even ecological communities inside an EIA framework, however what happens when there are vegetation communities that are relatively poorly understood but appear to be restricted to an area within your development envelope?

Spectrum Ecology recently assisted one of our clients with solving this very dilemma. By completing a species distribution modelling exercise using MaxEnt (Maximum Entropy modelling) software, Spectrum Ecology’s team of experienced botanists was able to map areas in the surrounding region where the target vegetation community was most likely to occur.  These areas were then targeted during an on-ground field survey which allowed the team to locate addition occurrences of the target vegetation community (and provide evidence of a much broader distribution outside of the development envelope) in a much shorter time frame than could be achieved when using traditional methods.

MaxEnt works by modelling the distribution of a species (or community) by comparing the locations of where they have previously been recorded (presence-only records) against a series of environmental spatial layers (geology, elevation, soil type, land system etc.).  MaxEnt then determines which combination of layer attributes best match with the known locations of your target species or community.  The resulting spatial information can be used to map areas with that combination of attributes, and therefore areas with the highest likelihood of occurrence for your target species or community.  This information can then be used to complete highly targeted regional assessments, that minimise time and effort (i.e. cost) and maximise project outcomes.

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