Using models to inform conservation policies

Two studies from researchers in Mexico examined how models based on data such as those accessible through GBIF can help to improve knowledge about the distribution of species with a restricted range, and so inform conservation policy.

Both studies looked at the case of the Bearded Wood-Partridge (Dendrortyx barbatus), an elusive bird found only in the temperate forests of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range of Mexico. It is classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List, but has a higher risk status of ‘endangered’ under Mexican national legislation, and there has been disagreement over time about its risk of extinction. The distribution map shown by IUCN suggests the species is split into three separate populations separated by large distances along the range.

The first study looked at five different methods of using the small number of records available for the species, to help define its actual distribution. A total of 41 historical records were obtained from various sources including GBIF. It found that ecological niche modelling provided the best results, and suggested that decisions on species conservation, especially for those with limited geographic ranges, should be supported by models using this method.

The second study used the expanded range predicted by the team’s model to target field research to seek new records for the Bearded Wood Partridge. Using the technique of playing a recording of the bird’s call and listening for a reply, the researchers obtained 95 new records, suggesting that the species was more common than previously thought. Many of the new occurrences were outside the range as currently shown on the expert maps. The authors suggest that the bird should no longer be classed as endangered by the Mexican authorities, and that IUCN should redefine its geographical range, although it should still be regarded as a vulnerable species.

Location of Researchers 
Number of resources used 
41 records from sources including GBIF