Assessing human impact despite uncertainty:viability of the northern spotted owl metapopulation in the northwestern USA
- Cite this article as:
- Akçakaya, H.R. & Raphael, M.G. Biodiversity and Conservation (1998) 7: 875. doi:10.1023/A:1008867602813
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We demonstrate the effect of uncertainty (resulting from lack of information or measurement error) on the assessment of human impact, with an analysis of the viability of the northern spotted owl throughout its range in the United States. We developed a spatially-explicit, stage-structured, stochastic metapopulation model of the northern spotted owl throughout its range in the United States. We evaluated the viability of the metapopulation using measures such as risk of decline and time to extinction. We incorporated uncertainty in the form of parameter ranges, and used them to estimate upper and lower bounds on the estimated viability of the species. We analysed the effect of this type of uncertainty on the assessment of human impact by comparing the species' viability under current conditions and under an assumed loss of spotted owl habitat in the next 100 years. The ranges of parameters were quite large and resulted in a wide range of risks of extinction. Despite this uncertainty, the results were sensitive to parameters related to habitat loss: under all assumptions and combinations of parameters, the model predicted that habitat loss results in substantially higher risks of metapopulation decline. This result demonstrated that even with relatively large uncertainties, risk-based model results can be used to assess human impact reliably.