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Ecol Appl. 2010 Dec;20(8):2131-47.

Spatiotemporal exploratory models for broad-scale survey data.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA.


The distributions of animal populations change and evolve through time. Migratory species exploit different habitats at different times of the year. Biotic and abiotic features that determine where a species lives vary due to natural and anthropogenic factors. This spatiotemporal variation needs to be accounted for in any modeling of species' distributions. In this paper we introduce a semiparametric model that provides a flexible framework for analyzing dynamic patterns of species occurrence and abundance from broad-scale survey data. The spatiotemporal exploratory model (STEM) adds essential spatiotemporal structure to existing techniques for developing species distribution models through a simple parametric structure without requiring a detailed understanding of the underlying dynamic processes. STEMs use a multi-scale strategy to differentiate between local and global-scale spatiotemporal structure. A user-specified species distribution model accounts for spatial and temporal patterning at the local level. These local patterns are then allowed to "scale up" via ensemble averaging to larger scales. This makes STEMs especially well suited for exploring distributional dynamics arising from a variety of processes. Using data from eBird, an online citizen science bird-monitoring project, we demonstrate that monthly changes in distribution of a migratory species, the Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor), can be more accurately described with a STEM than a conventional bagged decision tree model in which spatiotemporal structure has not been imposed. We also demonstrate that there is no loss of model predictive power when a STEM is used to describe a spatiotemporal distribution with very little spatiotemporal variation; the distribution of a nonmigratory species, the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis).

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