Assessing species' habitat associations from occurrence records, standardised monitoring data and expert opinion: A test with British butterflies

Redhead J. W.
Fox Richard
Brereton Tom M.
Oliver Tom H.

<p>Accurate knowledge of species' habitat associations is important for conservation planning and policy. Assessing habitat associations is a vital precursor to selecting appropriate indicator species for prioritising sites for conservation or assessing trends in habitat quality. However, much existing knowledge is based on qualitative expert opinion or local scale studies, and may not remain accurate across different spatial scales or geographic locations. Data from biological recording schemes have the potential to provide objective measures of habitat association, with the ability to account for spatial variation. We used data on 50 British butterfly species as a test case to investigate the correspondence of data-derived measures of habitat association with expert opinion, from two different butterfly recording schemes. One scheme collected large quantities of occurrence data (c. 3 million records) and the other, lower quantities of standardised monitoring data (c. 1400 sites). We used general linear mixed effects models to derive scores of association with broad-leaf woodland for both datasets and compared them with scores canvassed from experts. Scores derived from occurrence and abundance data both showed strongly positive correlations with expert opinion. However, only for occurrence data did these fell within the range of correlations between experts. Data-derived scores showed regional spatial variation in the strength of butterfly associations with broad-leaf woodland, with a significant latitudinal trend in 26% of species. Sub-sampling of the data suggested a mean sample size of 5000 occurrence records per species to gain an accurate estimation of habitat association, although habitat specialists are likely to be readily detected using several hundred records. Occurrence data from recording schemes can thus provide easily obtained, objective, quantitative measures of habitat association. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.</p>

Year of Publication
Ecological Indicators
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