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Mapping breeding bird species richness at management-relevant resolutions across the United States

Cite this dataset

Carroll, Kathleen et al. (2023). Mapping breeding bird species richness at management-relevant resolutions across the United States [Dataset]. Dryad.


Human activities alter ecosystems everywhere, causing rapid biodiversity loss and biotic homogenization. These losses necessitate coordinated conservation actions guided by biodiversity and species distribution spatial data that cover large areas yet have fine-enough resolution to be management-relevant (i.e., ≤ 5 km). However, most biodiversity products are too coarse for management or are only available for small areas. Furthermore, many maps generated for biodiversity assessment and conservation do not explicitly quantify the inherent tradeoff between resolution and accuracy when predicting biodiversity patterns. Our goals were to 1) generate predictive models of overall breeding bird species richness and species richness of different guilds based on nine functional or life history-based traits across the conterminous US at three resolutions (0.5, 2.5, and 5 km), and 2) quantify the tradeoff between resolution and accuracy, and hence relevance for management, of the resulting biodiversity maps. We summarized eighteen years of North American Breeding Bird Survey data (1992-2019) and modeled species richness using random forests, including 66 predictor variables (describing climate, vegetation, geomorphology, and anthropogenic conditions), 20 of which we newly derived. Among the three spatial resolutions, the percent variance explained ranged from 27% to 60% (median = 54%; mean = 57%) for overall species richness and 12% to 87% (median = 61%; mean = 58%) for our different guilds. Overall species richness and guild-specific species richness were best explained at 5-km resolution using approximately 24 predictor variables based on percent variance explained, symmetric mean absolute percentage error, and root mean squared error values. However, our 2.5-km resolution maps were almost as accurate and provided more spatially detailed information, which is why we recommend them for most management applications. Our results represent the first consistent, occurrence-based, and nationwide maps of breeding bird richness with a thorough accuracy assessment that are also spatially detailed enough to inform local management decisions. More broadly, our findings highlight the importance of explicitly considering tradeoffs between resolution and accuracy to create management-relevant biodiversity products for large areas.