Species distribution modeling has been widely used in studying habitat relationships and for conservation purposes. However, neglecting ecological knowledge about species, e.g. their seasonal movements, and ignoring the proper environmental factors that can explain key elements for species survival (shelter, food and water) increase model uncertainty. This study exemplifies how these ecological gaps in species distribution modeling can be addressed by modeling the distribution of the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) in Australia. Emus cover a large area during the austral winter. However, their habitat shrinks during the summer months. We show evidence of emu summer habitat shrinkage due to higher fire frequency, and low water and food availability in northern regions. Our findings indicate that emus prefer areas with higher vegetation productivity and low fire recurrence, while their distribution is linked to an optimal intermediate (~0.12 m3 m-3) soil moisture range. We propose that the application of three geospatial data products derived from satellite remote sensing, namely fire frequency, ecosystem productivity, and soil water content, provides an effective representation of emu general habitat requirements, and substantially improves species distribution modeling and representation of the species’ ecological habitat niche across Australia.
© 2016 Madani et al.
Madani N, Kimball JS, Nazeri M, Kumar L, Affleck DLR (2016) Remote Sensing Derived Fire Frequency, Soil Moisture and Ecosystem Productivity Explain Regional Movements in Emu over Australia. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0147285. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147285