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Using species distribution models and decision tools to direct surveys and identify potential translocation sites for a critically endangered species

Citation

Lentini, Pia et al. (2022), Using species distribution models and decision tools to direct surveys and identify potential translocation sites for a critically endangered species, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.6q573n603

Abstract

Aim: Occurrence records for cryptic species are typically limited or highly uncertain, leaving their distributions poorly resolved and hampering conservation. This can apply to well‐studied species, and increased survey effort and/or novel methods are required to improve distribution data. Here, we paired species distribution modelling (SDM) with decision tools to direct surveys for the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) outside its current restricted range. We also assessed survey areas for their suitability to host translocations.

Location: Victoria, Australia.

Method: We used both recent and historic records (now out of range and spatially uncertain) of Leadbeater's possum to build SDMs using MaxEnt. The SDMs informed an initial multi‐criteria decision analysis (MCDA) that enabled prioritization of 80 survey sites across seven forest patches (13–145 km outside the known range), which we surveyed using camera traps. Site and vegetation data were used in a post‐survey MCDA to rank their potential translocation suitability.

Results: The SDM predictions were consistent with the species’ ecology, identifying cold areas with high rainfall that had not recently burnt as suitable. The spatial uncertainty of records did not exert a strong influence on either model predictions or the ranking of patches for surveys. Camera trap surveys yielded records of 19 native species, with Leadbeater's possum detected in only one survey patch, 13 km outside of its previously known range. The post‐survey MCDA identified three forest patches as potentially suitable for conservation translocations, and these priorities were not sensitive to the decision criteria used.

Main conclusions: The approach outlined here prioritized survey effort over a large area, resulting in detection of Leadbeater's possum in one new patch. The potential translocation sites identified could present an important risk‐spreading measure for the species given the threat posed by bushfire. Combining SDMs and decision tools can help target surveys and guide subsequent conservation strategies.

Methods

We used both recent and historic records (now out of range and spatially uncertain) of Leadbeater's possum to build SDMs using MaxEnt. The SDMs informed an initial multi‐criteria decision analysis (MCDA) that enabled prioritization of 80 survey sites across seven forest patches (13–145 km outside the known range), which we surveyed using camera traps. Site and vegetation data were used in a post‐survey MCDA to rank their potential translocation suitability.

Funding

Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Award: 162514630

Victorian Environmental Assessment Council