Main content area

Habitat suitability models indicate the White-breasted Thrasher Ramphocinclus brachyurus occupies all suitable habitat in Saint Lucia

Bird conservation international 2017 v.27 no.1 pp. 96-110
Bothrops, Passeriformes, data collection, dry forests, endangered species, habitat conservation, habitats, land cover, models, prediction, rain, songbirds, streams, Martinique, Saint Lucia
Habitat suitability models can guide species conservation by identifying correlates of occurrence and predicting where species are likely to occur. We created habitat suitability models for the White-breasted Thrasher Ramphocinclus brachyurus, a narrowly distributed endangered songbird that occupies dry forest in Saint Lucia and Martinique. Eighty-five percent of the global population inhabits two ranges in Saint Lucia, both of which are largely unprotected and threatened by development. We developed three habitat suitability models using Maxent techniques and published occupancy datasets collected from the species’ two Saint Lucian ranges, and used abiotic, land cover, and predator distribution predictors. We built one model with occupancy data from both ranges, and two others with occupancy data specific to each range. The best full-range model included 11 predictors; high suitability was associated with close proximity to Saint Lucia fer-de-lance Bothrops caribbeaus range, moderately low precipitation, and areas near streams. Our assessment of suitable sites island-wide was more restricted than results from a recent model that considered older land cover data and omitted predator distributions. All sites identified in our full-range model as highly suitable were in or adjacent to the species’ current designated range. The model trained on southern range occurrences predicted zero suitable habitat in the northern range, where the population is much smaller. In contrast, the model trained on northern range occurrences identified areas of moderate suitability within the southern range and patches of moderately suitable habitat in the western part of the island, where no White-breasted Thrashers currently occur. We interpret these results as suggesting that White-breasted Thrashers currently occupy virtually all suitable habitat on the island, that birds in the northern range occupy marginal habitat, or that an important correlate of suitability is missing from the model. Our results suggest that habitat management should focus on currently occupied areas.