Why It Is Time to Put PHABSIM Out to Pasture

phabBy Steven F. Railsback

The Physical Habitat Simulation System (PHABSIM) was developed in the 1970s to fill an important void in instream flow assessment. Although considerable progress has been made in ecological modeling since the 1970s, there has been little change in instream flow assessment. PHABSIM has two general problems. 

First, PHABSIM is a habitat selection model (HSM)—but not a good one: it no longer conforms to standard practices in the wider fields of ecological and wildlife modeling, especially by using inappropriate spatial scales and outdated methods for modeling habitat preference and by producing output that lacks clear meaning.

Second, HSMs, in general, are not well suited for many instream flow decisions. HSMs cannot consider variation in flow over time, whereas dynamic flow regimes are now considered essential, and HSMs do not make testable predictions of fish population responses. Alternatives to PHABSIM include analyses based on explicit understanding of species ecology, individual-based models, and more powerful modern habitat selection modeling methods.

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