Enhanced Migratory Waterfowl Distribution Modeling by Inclusion of Depth to Water Table Data




Kreakie, Betty J.
Fan, Ying
Keitt, Timothy H.

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Public Library of Science


In addition to being used as a tool for ecological understanding, management and conservation of migratory waterfowl rely heavily on distribution models; yet these models have poor accuracy when compared to models of other bird groups. The goal of this study is to offer methods to enhance our ability to accurately model the spatial distributions of six migratory waterfowl species. This goal is accomplished by creating models based on species-specific annual cycles and introducing a depth to water table (DWT) data set. The DWT data set, a wetland proxy, is a simulated long-term measure of the point either at or below the surface where climate and geological/topographic water fluxes balance. For species occurrences, the USGS' banding bird data for six relatively common species was used. Distribution models are constructed using Random Forest and MaxEnt. Random Forest classification of habitat and non-habitat provided a measure of DWT variable importance, which indicated that DWT is as important, and often more important, to model accuracy as temperature, precipitation, elevation, and an alternative wetland measure. MaxEnt models that included DWT in addition to traditional predictor variables had a considerable increase in classification accuracy. Also, MaxEnt models created with DWT often had higher accuracy when compared with models created with an alternative measure of wetland habitat. By comparing maps of predicted probability of occurrence and response curves, it is possible to explore how different species respond to water table depth and how a species responds in different seasons. The results of this analysis also illustrate that, as expected, all waterfowl species are tightly affiliated with shallow water table habitat. However, this study illustrates that the intensity of affiliation is not constant between seasons for a species, nor is it consistent between species.


Betty J. Kreakie is with UT Austin; Timothy H. Keitt is with UT Austin; Ying Fan is with Rutgers University.

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Kreakie BJ, Fan Y, Keitt TH (2012) Enhanced Migratory Waterfowl Distribution Modeling by Inclusion of Depth to Water Table Data. PLoS ONE 7(1): e30142. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030142