Predicting multi-species bark beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae) occurrence in Alaska: First use of open access big data mining and open source GIS to provide robust inference and a role model for progress in forest conservation

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Khodabakhsh Zabihi
Falk Huettmann
Brian Young

Abstract

Native bark beetles (Coleoptera: Curculionidae: Scolytinae) are a multi-species complex that rank among the key disturbances of coniferous forests of western North America. Many landscape-level variables are known to influence beetle outbreaks, such as suitable climatic conditions, spatial arrangement of incipient populations, topography, abundance of mature host trees, and disturbance history that include former outbreaks and fire. We assembled the first open access data, which can be used in open source GIS platforms, for understanding the ecology of the bark beetle organism in Alaska. We used boosted classification and regression tree as a machine learning data mining algorithm to model-predict the relationship between 14 environmental variables, as model predictors, and 838 occurrence records of 68 bark beetle species compared to pseudo-absence locations across the state of Alaska. The model predictors include topography- and climate-related predictors as well as feature proximities and anthropogenic factors. We were able to model, predict, and map the multi-species bark beetle occurrences across the state of Alaska on a 1-km spatial resolution in addition to providing a good quality environmental dataset freely accessible for the public. About 16% of the mixed forest and 59% of evergreen forest are expected to be occupied by the bark beetles based on current climatic conditions and biophysical attributes of the landscape. The open access dataset that we prepared, and the machine learning modeling approach that we used, can provide a foundation for future research not only on scolytines but for other multi-species questions of concern, such as forest defoliators, and small and big game wildlife species worldwide.

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Articles (peer-reviewed)