NatureServe and the Network of Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centers are the recognized leaders for providing decision-quality distribution and abundance data for at-risk species and ecosystems. Our focus has been on Network-collected occurrence data that identify key locations of demonstrable conservation value for those species and ecosystems. Now, with increasing pressures on biodiversity, there is a pressing need for decision-makers to extrapolate beyond documented locations, and to identify areas likely to be occupied by at-risk species. Species habitat models address this need. Modeled information is not as certain as documented locations but overcomes limitations on survey information and can be applied in a precautionary manner to evaluate potential development impacts. As more models were developed by NatureServe and our Network programs, it become clear that a straightforward and flexible standard for developing, compiling, and sharing species habitat models was needed.
To create the standard, we convened a Species Habitat Model Standard Work Group comprised of individuals from multiple Network programs and NatureServe. The work group focused on three key objectives:
- Developing a standard for Network species habitat model products covering data formats and quality standards.
- Documenting best practices for modeling through an updatable wiki. (currently in development)
- Outlining a data management framework to guide the development of IT systems supporting Network provision of standardized habitat models.
The Work Group was guided by the model development and assessment rubric outlined in Sofaer et al. (2019), the collective experience gained through various state and multi-jurisdictional modeling initiatives, and the previous efforts of Network habitat modeling resolutions and technical teams. We focused on creating a standard that supports efficient sharing of information about likely habitat while providing the flexibility for programs to adapt and improve modeling methods over time.
With this standard, NatureServe and the Network is well-positioned to place the most current, complete, and consistent Biodiversity Location Data into the hands of researchers and decision-makers. Network data can be leveraged to create products that enable conservation practitioners and the regulation community to better understand not only where species have been documented but where else they are likely to occur - and where they are unlikely to occur.
We anticipate that the standard, and the best practices that it references, will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of the Network, to reflect advances in the science of habitat modeling, and to address growing conservation needs.