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Title: Meta-replication, sampling bias, and multi-scale model selection: A case study on snow leopard (Panthera uncia) in western China.

Authors: Atzeni, L., Cushman, S. A., Bai, D., Wang, J., Chen, P., Shi,
K., Riordan, P.

Abstract: Replicated multiple scale species distribution models (SDMs) have become increasingly important to identify the correct variables determining species distribution and their influences on ecological responses. This study explores multi-scale habitat relationships of the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) in two study areas on the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau of western China. Our primary objectives were to evaluate the degree to which snow leopard habitat relationships, expressed by predictors, scales of response, and magnitude of effects, were consistent across study areas or locally landcape-specific. We coupled univariate scale optimization and the maximum entropy algorithm to produce multivariate SDMs, inferring the relative suitability for the species by ensembling top performing models. We optimized the SDMs based on average omission rate across the top models and ensembles’ overlap with a simulated reference model. Comparison of SDMs in the two study areas highlighted landscape-specific responses to limiting factors. These were dependent on the effects of the hydrological network, anthropogenic features, topographic complexity, and the heterogeneity of the landcover patch mosaic. Overall, even accounting for specific local differences, we found general landscape attributes associated with snow leopard ecological requirements, consisting of a positive association with uplands and ridges, aggregated low-contrast landscapes, and large extents of grassy and herbaceous vegetation. As a means to evaluate the performance of two bias correction methods, we explored their effects on three datasets showing a range of bias intensities. The performance of corrections depends on the bias intensity; however, density kernels offered a reliable correction strategy under all circumstances. This study reveals the multi-scale response of snow leopards to environmental attributes and confirms the role of meta-replicated study designs for the identification of spatially varying limiting factors. Furthermore, this study makes important contributions to the ongoing discussion about the best approaches for sampling bias correction.



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