, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 883-899

Sampling bias and the use of ecological niche modeling in conservation planning: a field evaluation in a biodiversity hotspot

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Abstract

Ecological niche modeling (ENM) has become an important tool in conservation biology. Despite its recent success, several basic issues related to algorithm performance are still being debated. We assess the ability of two of the most popular algorithms, GARP and Maxent, to predict distributions when sampling is geographically biased. We use an extensive data set collected in the Brazilian Cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot in South America. We found that both algorithms give richness predictions that are very similar to other traditionally used richness estimators. Also, both algorithms correctly predicted the presence of most species collected during fieldwork, and failed to predict species collected only in very few cases (usually species with very few known localities, i.e., <5). We also found that Maxent tends to be more sensitive to sampling bias than GARP. However, Maxent performs better when sampling is poor (e.g., low number of data points). Our results indicates that ENM, even when provided with limited and geographically biased localities, is a very useful technique to estimate richness and composition of unsampled areas. We conclude that data generated by ENM maximize the utility of existing biodiversity data, providing a very useful first evaluation. However, for reliable conservation decisions ENM data must be followed by well-designed field inventories, especially for the detection of restricted range, rare species.