Using habitat suitability models to sample rare species in high-altitude ecosystems: a case study with Tibetan argali
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- Singh, N.J., Yoccoz, N.G., Bhatnagar, Y.V. et al. Biodivers Conserv (2009) 18: 2893. doi:10.1007/s10531-009-9615-5
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Models of the distribution of rare and endangered species are important tools for their monitoring and management. Presence data used to build up distribution models can be based on simple random sampling, but this for patchy distributed species results in small number of presences and therefore low precision. Convenience sampling, either based on easily accessible units or a priori knowledge of the species habitat but with no known probability of sampling each unit, is likely to result in biased estimates. Stratified random sampling, with strata defined using habitat suitability models [estimated in the resource selection functions (RSFs) framework] is a promising approach for improving the precision of model parameters. We used this approach to sample the Tibetan argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni) in Indian Transhimalaya in order to estimate their distribution and to test if it can lead to a significant reduction in survey effort compared to random sampling. We first used an initial sample of argali feeding sites in 2005 and 2006 based on a priori selected vantage points and survey transects. This initial sample was used to build up an initial distribution model. The spatial predictions based on estimated RSFs were then used to define three strata of the study area. The strata were randomly sampled in 2007. As expected, much more presences per hour were obtained in the high quality strata compared to the low quality strata—1.33 obs/h vs. 0.080/h. Furthermore the best models selected on the basis of the prospective sample differed from those using the first a priori sample, suggesting bias in the initial sampling effort. The method therefore has significant implications for decreasing sampling effort in terms of sampling time in the field, especially when dealing with rare species, and removing initial sampling bias.