Aizpurua O., Cantú-Salazar L., San Martin G., Sardà-Palomera F., Gargallo G., Herrando S., Brotons L. & Titeux N. Evaluating the reliability of species distribution models with an indirect measure of bird reproductive performance. Journal of Avian Biology, in press. doi: 10.1111/jav.01218
Measures of fitness such as reproductive performance are considered reliable indicators of habitat quality for a species. Such measures are, however, only available in a restricted number of sites, which prevents them from being used to quantify habitat quality across landscapes or regions. Alternatively, species presence records can be used along with environmental variables to build models that predict the distribution of species across larger spatial extents. Model predictions are often used for management purposes as they are assumed to describe the quality of the habitats to support a species. Yet, given that species are often present both in optimal and suboptimal areas, the use of data collected during the breeding season to build these models may potentially result in misleading predictions of habitat quality for the reproduction of the species, with potentially significant conservation consequences. In this study we analysed the relationship between fitness parameters informing on habitat quality for reproduction and predictions of species distribution models at multiple spatial scales using two independent sets of data. For 19 passerine bird species, we compared an indirect measure of reproductive performance (ratio of juveniles-to-adults) – obtained from Constant Effort Sites (CES) mist-netting data in Catalonia – with the predictions of models based on bird presence records collected during the Catalan Breeding Bird Atlas (CBBA). A positive relationship between the predictions derived from species distribution models and the reproductive performance of the species was found for half of the species at one or more spatial scales. This result suggests that species distribution models may help to predict habitat quality for some species over some extents. However, caution is needed as this is not consistent for all species at all scales. Further work based on species- and scale-specific approaches is now required to understand in which situations species distribution models provide predictions that are in line with reproductive performance.