Mapping the Sasquatch

ResearchBlogging.orgI love modeling! I love modeling! Modeling will solve everything!

Let’s model the spatial distribution of Bigfoot!

WAIT, WHAT?!

Figure 1 from the paper. Foots denote sighting of Sasquatch footprints. Circles for just visual/auditory sightings. I ask, how does one know what Bigfoot sounds like?

Yes, it sounds silly, but in the current issue of the Journal of Biogegraphy, Lozier et al give us their stunning contribution Predicting the distribution of Sasquatch in western North America: anything goes with ecological niche modelling. Finally, all will be revealed. And for those wondering:

Sasquatch belongs to a large primate lineage descended from the extinct Asian species Gigantopithicus blacki, but see Milinkovich et al. (2004) and Coltman & Davis (2005) for phylogenetic analyses indicating possible membership in the ungulate clade.

They do this to prove a point – that Ecological Niche Models for determining species ranges are amazing – invaluable conservation tools, really. But if the taxonomy on the data that goes into them are shoddy (like, say, calling a Black Bear a Sasquatch), the results will be, well, interesting.

They use data on sightings (see Fig. 1 above) from… the Bigfoot Field Research Organization
and then used the latest and greatest in Ecological Niche Modeling to determine, given environmental parameters, just where does Bigfoot live? And, under current climate change scenarios, where might we find Sasquatch in the future?

So cryptozoologists take note! Here is a veritable treasure trove of information as to where to place your next tripwire camera!


Where will bigfoot be in the future after climate change? Panel A shows current Sasquatch Distribution. Panel B shows its projected distribution under climate change.

In fairness, the authors use this dubious analysis to point out that, when we have a record of species occurrences that seem tidy and orderly, we often don’t question their taxonomic validity. The output of these models, vital to some conservation efforts, will only be as good as their input. Indeed, in this case, the authors find striking overlap with the (far less frequently observed) Black Bear (yes, people report sightings of Sasquatch more than that of Black Bears). It’s a real problem, and the assessment of data uncertainty is a real pressing issue for any method that attempts to draw inference from sparse data.

But, really, in the end, this is an Ig-Nobel award winner in the making. Bravo.

Lozier, J., Aniello, P., & Hickerson, M. (2009). Predicting the distribution of Sasquatch in western North America: anything goes with ecological niche modelling Journal of Biogeography DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2009.02152.x