US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Ornithological Monographs (2006) No. 59: 1-56


This review grew out of our realization that models play an increasingly important role in conservation but are rarely used in the research of most avian biologists. Modelers are creating models that are more complex and mechanistic and that can incorporate more of the knowledge acquired by field biologists. Such models require field biologists to provide more specific information, larger sample sizes, and sometimes new kinds of data, such as habitat-specific demography and dispersal information. Field biologists need to support model development by testing key model assumptions and validating models. The best conservation decisions will occur where cooperative interaction enables field biologists, modelers, statisticians, and managers to contribute effectively.

We begin by discussing the general form of ecological models- heuristic or mechanistic, "scientific" or statistical- and then highlight the structure, strengths, weaknesses, and applications of six types of models commonly used in avian conservation: (1) deterministic single population matrix models, (2) stochastic population viability analysis (PVA) models for single populations, (3) metapopulation models, (4) spatially explicit models, (5) genetic models, and (6) species distribution models. We end by considering the intelligent use of models in decision- making, which requires understanding their unique attributes, determining whether the assumptions that underlie the structure are valid, and testing the ability of the model to predict the future correctly.