Spatially-explicit habitat characterization and population-response modeling are important elements of conservation planning that help to make on-the-ground conservation efforts more efficient and effective. Habitat assessments depict the amount and configuration of habitat types across a landscape of conservation interest, while bird-habitat or bird population-response models quantify the relationship between bird distributions and abundance with habitat amounts and configurations; together they can help direct attention to specific areas where birds are most likely to respond positively to conservation efforts and, in the best-case scenarios, also allow planners to predict how much of an impact conservation efforts applied to those landscapes will have on the populations in question.
The choice of an assessment or modelling approach is affected by the availability and quality of information that can be used to link bird abundance with habitat quality, configuration and quantity. Habitat Suitability Index (HSI) models, for example, can be more conceptual and based on hypothesized relationships formulated from literature review, empirical data, expert opinion, or some combination of those. Statistical models are data-dependent and the majority employ some form of statistical regression analyses to characterize and quantify the relationship between species and their habitats. Statistical models can be used to predict a populations’ distribution and abundance across large landscapes and also to evaluate a population’s response to conservation efforts after conservation efforts are implemented. (For more on the pros and cons of statistical and habitat suitability index models, (see a model comparison PDF) While HSI and statistical models used in conservation planning by the CHJV operate in a geographic information system (GIS) to generate maps from models, our “GIS Models” are preliminary explorations of bird-habitat relationships using a combination of existing spatial products and species occurrence data. These models help identify potential new directions for future research. Models designed to assess the effects of climate change on bird populations incorporate information derived from climate models as well as habitat and bird population attributes tend to be very complex.