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Modelling habitat suitability for the leopard in southern India through Ensemble Species Distribution Modelling

Singh, MSc Daksh (2023) Modelling habitat suitability for the leopard in southern India through Ensemble Species Distribution Modelling.

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Abstract:In the southern Indian provinces of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, anthropogenic influences and habitat fragmentation have exerted significant impacts on the Indian leopard's environment within the biodiverse Western Ghats. As a globally recognized UNESCO World Heritage site, the Western Ghats' diverse ecosystems and rich biodiversity are integral to the survival of these leopards. This study analyses the implications of integrating anthropogenic variables with environmental variables, assessing their cumulative impact on the precision of Species Distribution Models (SDMs). Four distinct SDMs utilizing techniques Maximum Entropy (Maxent), Random Forests, Generalized Linear Models (GLM), and Boosted Regression Trees (BRT) were employed. Initial model execution solely incorporated environmental variables, and the outputs were incorporated into a comprehensive ensemble model with recorded accuracy measures. In subsequent runs, anthropogenic variables were introduced, enhancing the integrated model's overall accuracy, thereby underscoring their pivotal role in forecasting habitat suitability. Moreover, this investigation estimates the viable habitat area for leopards outside the prescribed protected zones within Tamil Nadu and Kerala. An exploration into the influence of dataset selection on leopard habitat suitability modelling was also undertaken, utilizing two divergent datasets: the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the official Indian government report on leopard status. A significant discrepancy was noted when each dataset was applied individually, resulting in the deployment of a combined dataset for the final analysis. The ensemble model predicts a total suitable habitat area of 21,797 square kilometres within these southern Indian states. From this, 7,426.015 square kilometres are within protected areas, leaving 14,370.985 square kilometres of appropriate habitat situated outside these zones. It also provides a district-wise breakdown of the predicted leopard habitat and protected areas in both states. Representing the pioneering application of machine learning techniques in Tamil Nadu and Kerala for predicting suitable habitats for leopards, this research significantly contributes to the region's conservation initiatives. Keywords: Leopards, Species Distribution Modelling, Ensemble Model, Habitat Suitability, Human-Wildlife Conflict, Western Ghats, Tamil Nadu, Kerala
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:ITC: Faculty of Geo-information Science and Earth Observation
Subject:38 earth sciences, 43 environmental science, 54 computer science, 74 (human) geography, cartography, town and country planning, demography
Programme:Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation MSc (75014)
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