Habitat Suitability Modeling for the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, 'Heterodon platirhinos', in Ontario

Title: Habitat Suitability Modeling for the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, 'Heterodon platirhinos', in Ontario
Authors: Thomasson, Victor
Date: 2012
Abstract: With exploding human populations and landscapes that are changing, an increasing number of wildlife species are brought to the brink of extinction. In Canada, the eastern hog-nosed snake, 'Heterodon platirhinos', is found in a limited portion of southern Ontario. Designated as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), this reptile has been losing its habitat at an alarming rate. Due to the increase in development of southern Ontario, it is crucial to document what limits the snake’s habitat to direct conservation efforts better, for the long-term survival of this species. The goals of this study are: 1) to examine what environmental parameters are linked to the presence of the species at a landscape scale; 2) to predict where the snakes can be found in Ontario through GIS-based habitat suitability models (HSMs); and 3) to assess the role of biotic interactions in HSMs. Three models with high predictive power were employed: Maxent, Boosted Regression Trees (BRTs), and the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Production (GARP). Habitat suitability maps were constructed for the eastern hog-nosed snake for its entire Canadian distribution and models were validated with both threshold dependent and independent metrics. Maxent and BRT performed better than GARP and all models predict fewer areas of high suitability when landscape variables are used with current occurrences. Forest density and maximum temperature during the active season were the two variables that contributed the most to models predicting the current distribution of the species. Biotic variables increased the performance of models not by representing a limiting resource, but by representing the inequality of sampling and areas where forest remains. Although habitat suitability models rely on many assumptions, they remain useful in the fields of conservation and landscape management. In addition to help identify critical habitat, HSMs may be used as a tool to better manage land to allow for the survival of species at risk.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/23322
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