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A comparison of predictive methods in extinction risk studies: contrasts and decision trees

Sullivan, Matthew S., Jones, Martin J., Lee, David C., Marsden, Stuart, Fielding, Alan H. and Young, Emily V. (2006) A comparison of predictive methods in extinction risk studies: contrasts and decision trees. Biodiversity and conservation, 15 (6). pp. 1977-1991. ISSN 1572-9710

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Over the last two decades an increasing emphasis has been placed on the importance of controlling for phylogeny when examining cross-species data; so-called comparative methods. These methods are appropriate for testing hypotheses about correlations between evolutionary events in the history of a clade and adaptive responses to those changes. When this approach is applied to extinction risk, possible correlations between evolutionary changes in, for example, body size or habitat specialisation and some measure(s) of current threat status are examined. However, there may be a mismatch here between the results of such studies, and the real, pragmatic needs of species conservation. This kind of approach certainly adds to our knowledge of some fundamental processes, but it is more difficult to see how this can be applied to conservation decision-making. For more practical purposes a decision-tree approach can be extremely useful. This paper illustrates the use of a contrasts based analysis of extinction risk compared with a decision-tree analysis for Galliformes (Aves). While the contrasts analyses concur with some general macroecological trends found in other studies, the decision-tree models provide lists of species predicted to be more at risk than current assessments would suggest. We argue that in practical terms, decision tree models might be more useful than a macroecological linear model-based approach.

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