A comparison of artificial neural networks and random forests to predict native fish species richness in Mediterranean rivers

Autores UPV
Revista Knowledge and Management of Aquatic Ecosystems


Machine learning (ML) techniques have become important to support decision making in management and conservation of freshwater aquatic ecosystems. Given the large number of ML techniques and to improve the understanding of ML utility in ecology, it is necessary to perform comparative studies of these techniques as a preparatory analysis for future model applications. The objectives of this study were (i) to compare the reliability and ecological relevance of two predictive models for fish richness, based on the techniques of artificial neural networks (ANN) and random forests (RF) and (ii) to evaluate the conformity in terms of selected important variables between the two modelling approaches. The effectiveness of the models were evaluated using three performance metrics: the determination coefficient (R2), the mean squared error (MSE) and the adjusted determination coefficient (R2adj) and both models were developed using a k-fold crossvalidation procedure. According to the results, both techniques had similar validation performance (R2 = 68% for RF and R2 = 66% for ANN). Although the two methods selected different subsets of input variables, both models demonstrated high ecological relevance for the conservation of native fish in the Mediterranean region. Moreover, this work shows how the use of different modelling methods can assist the critical analysis of predictions at a catchment scale.