A review of Bayesian belief network models as decision-support tools for wetland conservation : are water birds potential umbrella taxa?
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Creative approaches to identifying umbrella species hold promise for devising effective surrogates of ecological communities or ecosystems. However, mechanistic niche models that predict range or habitat overlap among species may yet lack development. We reviewed literature on taxon-centered Bayesian belief network (BBN) models to explore a novel approach to identify umbrella taxa identifying taxonomic groups that share the largest proportion of habitat requirements (i.e., states of important habitat variables) with other wetland-dependent taxa. We reviewed and compiled published literature to provide a comprehensive and reproducible account of the current understanding of habitat requirements for freshwater, wetland-dependent taxa using BBNs. We found that wetland birds had the highest degree of shared habitat requirements with other taxa, and consequently may be suitable umbrella taxa in freshwater wetlands. Comparing habitat requirements using a BBN approach to build species distribution models, this review also identified taxa that may not benefit from conservation actions targeted at umbrella taxa by identifying taxa with unique habitat requirements not shared with umbrellas. Using a standard node set that accurately and comprehensively represents the ecosystem in question, BBNs could be designed to improve identification of umbrella taxa. In wetlands, expert knowledge about hydrology, geomorphology and soils could add important information regarding physical landscape characteristics relevant to species. Thus, a systems-oriented framework may improve overarching inferences from BBNs and subsequent utility to conservation planning and management.
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