Linking local ecological knowledge and habitat modelling to predict absolute species abundance on large scales
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Assessing the spatial structure of abundance of a species is a basic requirement to carry out adequate conservation strategies. However, existing attempts to predict species abundance, particularly in absolute units and on large scales, are scarce and have led to weak results. In this work we present a scheme to obtain, in an affordable way, a predictive model of absolute animal abundance on large scales based on the modelling of data obtained from local ecological knowledge (LEK) and its calibration. To exemplify this scheme, we build and validate a predictive absolute abundance model of the endangered terrestrial tortoise Testudo graeca in Southeast Iberian Peninsula. For that purpose, we collected distribution and relative abundance data of T. graeca using a low cost methodology, such as LEK, by means of interviewing shepherds. The information from LEK was employed to build a predictive habitat-based model of relative abundance. The relative abundance model was transformed into an absolute abundance model by means of calibration with a classical absolute abundance sampling method such as distance sampling. The obtained absolute abundance model predicted the observed absolute abundances values well in independent locations when compared with other works (R2 = 36%) and thus can offer a cost-effective predictive ability. Our results show that reliable habitat-based predictive maps of absolute species abundance on regional scales can be obtained starting from low cost sampling methods of relative abundance, such as LEK, and its calibration.