Using distribution models to test alternative hypotheses about a species' environmental limits and recovery prospects

Barbara J. Anderson, Beatrice E. Arroyo, Yvonne C. Collingham, Brian Etheridge, Javier Fernandez-De-Simon, Simon Gillings, Richard D. Gregory, Fiona M. Leckie, Innes M. W. Sim, Chris D. Thomas, Justin Travis, Steve M. Redpath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Distribution models are commonly used to generalise across species distributions, to project future potential range changes, and to identify potential areas for species reintroductions and recovery plans. Building several models that incorporate different potential causal factors is a useful way of formalising alternative hypotheses. We developed a series of models to test hypotheses about the factors influencing the distribution of a species of conservation importance - the hen harrier Circus cyaneus.

A climate-based model using continental distribution data was consistent with the continental distribution and observational studies in Britain. According to the climate-model the parts of Britain occupied by the hen harrier are the least climatically suitable.

Habitat-based models using detailed distribution data from seven Scottish areas explained the recent British distribution well, with birds largely confined to heather dominated areas. These patterns were inconsistent with historical data on the species' distribution, its habitat use in other parts of its range and with the climate-based model.

Our burn intensity index of gamekeeper activity was highly correlated with climatic suitability within the best 25% of 10 km squares by modelled habitat suitability, negatively associated with the productivity data and associated with a decrease in abundances between 1998 and 2004. Gamekeeper activity may be keeping hen harriers out of the most climatically suitable areas with habitat similar to that which they currently occupy within Britain and or keeping the population numbers too low and isolated for the natural re-expansion of the species into parts of the range where it was historically extirpated. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488-499
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number3
Early online date21 Dec 2008
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


  • hen harrier
  • climate
  • habitat
  • niche
  • persecution
  • raptor
  • harrier circus-cyaneus
  • Isle-of-Man
  • red grouse
  • habitat characteristic
  • conservation
  • Scotland
  • UK
  • prey


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