• Scenario-Led Habitat Modelling of Land Use Change Impacts on Key Species

      Geary, Matthew; Fielding, Alan H.; McGowan, Philip J. K.; Marsden, Stuart J.; University of Chester, Manchester Metropolitan University; Newcastle University (PLOS, 2015-11-16)
      Accurate predictions of the impacts of future land use change on species of conservation concern can help to inform policy-makers and improve conservation measures. If predictions are spatially explicit, predicted consequences of likely land use changes could be accessible to land managers at a scale relevant to their working landscape. We introduce a method, based on open source software, which integrates habitat suitability modelling with scenario-building, and illustrate its use by investigating the effects of alternative land use change scenarios on landscape suitability for black grouse Tetrao tetrix. Expert opinion was used to construct five near-future (twenty years) scenarios for the 800 km2 study site in upland Scotland. For each scenario, the cover of different land use types was altered by 5–30% from 20 random starting locations and changes in habitat suitability assessed by projecting a MaxEnt suitability model onto each simulated landscape. A scenario converting grazed land to moorland and open forestry was the most beneficial for black grouse, and ‘increased grazing’ (the opposite conversion) the most detrimental. Positioning of new landscape blocks was shown to be important in some situations. Increasing the area of open-canopy forestry caused a proportional decrease in suitability, but suitability gains for the ‘reduced grazing’ scenario were nonlinear. ‘Scenario-led’ landscape simulation models can be applied in assessments of the impacts of land use change both on individual species and also on diversity and community measures, or ecosystem services. A next step would be to include landscape configuration more explicitly in the simulation models, both to make them more realistic, and to examine the effects of habitat placement more thoroughly. In this example, the recommended policy would be incentives on grazing reduction to benefit black grouse.