Westwood Lab in partnership with AC CDC hosts workshop to address the knowledge gaps, barriers, and challenges of species distribution modelling

Photo: Workshop attendees.

“All models are wrong, but some are useful”

– George E. P. Box.

This quote was the mantra for a Species Distribution Modelling Workshop at Dalhousie University over January 12 and 13 hosted by the Westwood Lab, in partnership with members from the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center (AC CDC). Many bright minds congregated at Dalhousie University, representing all levels of expertise to discuss and determine the best practices for modelling species distributions in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere.

Lightning Talks

To kick off the workshop, seven lightning talks given by the attendees gave the group insights into ongoing projects, applications for models, and challenges. The first section had presenters Dr. Katherine Dearborn (representing Dr. David Lieske), Dr. Christopher Edge and Dr. Robert Buchkowski, and Miranda Frison discussing some of the intricacies and applications of modelling.

Photo: Lightning talk given by Dr. Christopher Edge (pictured) and Dr. Robert Buchkowski.

The second had Dr. Katherine Dearborn, Thomas Baker, Charity Robicheau and Jocelyn Pender presenting a few different model types, data-specific considerations, and how models for specific species can be used in conservation efforts.

The final section had Riley Scanlan and Courtney Burk discussing the applications of connectivity modelling, and how this can identify high value areas for multiple species conservation. The lightning talk abstracts and associated slides, as well as the conference proceedings can be found on the AC CDC’s website.

Asking and Answering Critical Questions

After an enlightening introduction to ongoing modelling efforts and case-specific challenges, the attendees brainstormed the major challenges facing modelers of all levels of expertise in Atlantic Canada.

On day two of the workshop, after having an evening of merriment and reflection, attendees reunited in groups to tackle drafting answers to these frequently asked, but not so frequently answered questions in a knowledge sharing and culmination effort. Overall, participants concluded that even with some uncertainty in modelling, the results of this great effort can still be very practical if we understand the inherent limitations of spatial data and data availability.

Photo: Drafting answers to questions.

Panel Discussion

The workshop concluded with a School for Resource and Environmental Studies Student Society-hosted “SRES Talk”, which was a lively panel discussion with Dr. Robert Buchkowski, Dr. Derek Tittensor, and Dr. Amy Mui, moderated by Dr. Alana Westwood. The panel discussed addressing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples through modelling practice, the importance of reporting uncertainty, a wealth of model applications, and how we can use models to begin to understand how to conserve and manage species in an uncertain future.

Photo: Panel discussion. From left to right: Dr. Robert Buchkowski, Dr. Derek Tittensor, Dr. Amy Mui, and Dr. Alana Westwood.

The best practices developed by workshop participants will be shared as part of the Atlantic Canada Species At Risk Habitat Modelling Community of Practice. This group is compiling best practices and resources for habitat modelling in the region. The workshops’ findings will be posted on the Community of Practice’s page and the conclusions from the working group on the FAQ page. Subscribe to the AC CDC’s Community of Practice email list to stay informed about continued efforts to develop resources for those embarking on the creation and use of species distribution models.

Workshop summary prepared by Geneva Bahen.

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