Predicting abundance of desert riparian birds: Validation and calibration of the effective area model

L. Arriana Brand, Barry R. Noon, Thomas D. Sisk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Reliable prediction of the effects of landscape change on species abundance is critical to land managers who must make frequent, rapid decisions with long-term consequences. However, due to inherent temporal and spatial variability in ecological systems, previous attempts to predict species abundance in novel locations and/or time frames have been largely unsuccessful. The Effective Area Model (EAM) uses change in habitat composition and geometry coupled with response of animals to habitat edges to predict change in species abundance at a landscape scale. Our research goals were to validate EAM abundance predictions in new locations and to develop a calibration framework that enables absolute abundance predictions in novel regions or time frames. For model validation, we compared the EAM to a null model excluding edge effects in terms of accurate prediction of species abundance. The EAM outperformed the null model for 83.3% of species (N = 12) for which it was possible to discern a difference when considering 50 validation sites. Likewise, the EAM outperformed the null model when considering subsets of validation sites categorized on the basis of four variables (isolation, presence of water, region, and focal habitat). Additionally, we explored a framework for producing calibrated models to decrease prediction error given inherent temporal and spatial variability in abundance. We calibrated the EAM to new locations using linear regression between observed and predicted abundance with and without additional habitat covariates. We found that model adjustments for unexplained variability in time and space, as well as variability that can be explained by incorporating additional covariates, improved EAM predictions. Calibrated EAM abundance estimates with additional site-level variables explained a significant amount of variability (P < 0.05) in observed abundance for 17 of 20 species, with R2 values >25% for 12 species, >48% for six species, and >60% for four species when considering all predictive models. The calibration framework described in this paper can be used to predict absolute abundance in sites different from those in which data were collected if the target population of sites to which one would like to statistically infer is sampled in a probabilistic way.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1090-1102
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006


  • Abundance
  • Birds
  • Calibration
  • Effective Area Model (EAM)
  • Model testing
  • Null model
  • Prediction
  • San Pedro River, Arizona, USA
  • Validation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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