Hierarchical spatiotemporal modelling of distribution and abundance of Swiss breeding birds

Supervised by Dr. Marc Kéry (Swiss Ornithological Institute) & funded by Swiss National Science Foundation


Spatiotemporal patterns in distribution and abundance are a fundamental theme in ecology and applied fields such as  biodiversity monitoring and conservation. However, two common problems are (i) limited spatial or temporal extent and (ii) interpretational challenges due to the complex observation process underlying most ecological field data. This may jeopardise inferences about distribution and population dynamics unless the main features of the observation process are well understood, so that their biasing effects can be removed.


The aim of this project is to develop an analytical framework for combining disparate data sets for large-scale spatiotemporal modelling of distribution and abundance which explicitly addresses all aspects of the observation process. We use data on avian distribution and abundance produced by four large and disparate surveys in Switzerland. With the help of Bayesian hierarchical models, we envision ‘reconstructing’ the spatial dynamics of distribution and abundance for up to 180 Swiss breeding bird species over 25+ years in a landscape demography approach.

Based on the foundation of our new analytical framework, in a follow-up study we plan to tackle important ecological and management problems, including demographic causes of population changes in the face of habitat and climate change, demographic community patterns and further topics on optimal monitoring. Our novel approach of merging disparate data sets in time or in space, and the rigorous accommodation of the observation processes in each data source, could lead the way to a much greater generality in population ecological studies and greatly refined inferences about distribution and abundance in biodiversity monitoring.


In collaboration with:

Jérôme Guélat, our new GIS specialist from

A warm welcome to Jérôme Guélat, who is starting his PhD degree in February. Jérôme’s PhD is an exciting collaboration with Dr. Marc Kéry from the Swiss Ornithological Institute, where Jérôme has been working as a GIS specialist. For his PhD, he will investigate the spatiotemporal dynamics of breeding bird populations across Switzerland using a hierarchical model and disparate data collected over large spatial and temporal scales. We are looking forward to having him on board as our spatial analysis expert and embassador of the Vogelwarte.

Jérôme Guélat | External PhD Student

jerome I’m an ecologist with particular interests in population ecology, GIS, spatial modelling, landscape ecology, conservation biology and quantitative methods. I started my research career with shrews in Switzerland, and then I discovered the wonderful world of birds when I was volunteering for the conservation of the pink pigeon in Mauritius. I travelled back and I am now working for the Swiss Ornithological Institute.

Up to now my research focused mainly on:

  • Species distribution modelling and GIS
  • Metapopulation dynamics and coexistence of shrews
  • Conflicts between birds and wind farms

My PhD thesis is supervised by Marc Kéry (Swiss Ornithological Institute) and funded by Swiss National Science Foundation.

I also love being outside in the wild, hiking or snowboarding in the mountains, taking pictures, and diving. Otherwise I enjoy reading a good book when the weather is too bad…



  • 2013-present, PhD student, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich
  • 2007-present, GIS Team Leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute
  • 2006-2007, Field Researcher, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation
  • 2006-2005, MSc in Conservation Biology, University of Lausanne



  • Liechti F, Guélat J, Komenda-Zehnder S (2013) Modelling the spatial concentrations of bird migration to assess conflicts with wind turbines. Biological Conservation
  • Liechti F, Guélat J, Bauer S, Mateos M, Komenda-Zehnder S (2012) Konfliktpotenzialkarte Windenergie – Vögel Schweiz: Teilbereich Vogelzug. Erläuterungsbericht. Schweizerische Vogelwarte, Sempach
  • Horch P, Schmid H, Guélat J, Liechti F (2012) Konfliktpotenzialkarte Windenergie – Vögel Schweiz: Teilbereich Brutvögel, Gastvögel und Vogelschutzgebiete gemäss WZVV. Erläuterungsbericht. Schweizerische Vogelwarte, Sempach
  • Royle JA, Kéry M, Guélat J (2011) Spatial capture-recapture models for search-encounter data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution
  • Knaus P, Graf R, Guélat J, Keller V, Schmid H, Zbinden N (2011) Historical Atlas of Breeding Birds. The Distribution of Swiss Breeding Birds since 1950. Schweizerische Vogelwarte, Sempach
  • Korner-Nievergelt F, Sauter A, Atkinson PW, Guélat J, Kania W, Kéry M, Köppen U, Robinson RA, Schaub M, Thorup K, van der Jeugd H, van Noordwijk AJ (2010) Improving the analysis of movement data from marked individuals through explicit estimation of observer heterogeneity. Journal of Avian Biology
  • Guélat J, Jaquiéry J, Berset-Brändli L, Pellegrini E, Moresi R, Broquet T, Hirzel AH, Perrin N (2008) Mass effects mediate coexistence in competing shrews. Ecology
  • Jaquiéry J, Guélat J, Broquet T, Berset-Brändli L, Pellegrini E, Moresi R, Hirzel AH, Perrin N (2008) Habitat-quality effects on metapopulation dynamics in greater white-toothed shrews, Crocidura russula. Ecology