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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Predicting the occurrence of an endangered salamander in a highly urbanized landscape

Andie L. Siemens*, Jim P. Bogart, Jessica E. Linton, D. Ryan Norris

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Effective protection of threatened species living in highly urbanized landscapes requires detailed information on their population distribution. For species that are difficult to detect, species distribution models (SDMs) can be valuable tools for predicting their occurrence. We created an SDM to predict breeding pond locations of the endangered Jefferson salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum, in southern Ontario, the most highly developed and populated region in Canada. Using a Maximum Entropy Modelling algorithm (Maxent), we combined known breeding pond occurrences with climate, land type, soil, and topography data to capture the ecological niche of Jefferson salamander. Our SDM showed excellent performance (AUC = 0.919) with land type being the most important predictor variable. We produced a continuous habitat suitability map that predicted most hotspots of suitable habit to occur along the Niagara Escarpment, with small patches in hedge rows and forest fragments in surrounding agricultural areas. Our refined presence-absence map predicted a high suitability area of 305 km2 with high specificity and moderate overall accuracy. Over half of this area was within the Ontario Greenbelt, demonstrating the importance of protecting this land from future development. Our work demonstrates how SDMs can be used to inform decisions on endangered species and direct conservation efforts towards critical habitats.