Spatial ecology in a changing world

New article: Distribution models may fail when apply in a temporal perspective

Species distribution models should be used with caution!

Land-cover changes from the last decades are leading to important declines in habitat quality, giving rise to changes in bird species distribution all over the world. However, land-cover changes result from a variety of different processes, and it is not clear how effective species distribution models are in capturing species responses to these changes. In this study, we evaluated our ability to predict the effects of land-cover changes on shifts in species distributions at large spatial and temporal scales using Mediterranean landscapes and early-successional, open-habitat birds as study models.

We developed accurate model projections of current and past global patterns of species distribution, but our ability to predict species distribution dynamics was reduced. Colonization dynamics were generally more strongly related to fire descriptors than to changes in overall habitat suitability derived from land-cover changes. Our results warn of the dangers of projecting species distribution models onto future conditions if processes behind species distribution dynamics are not explicitly included. Consideration of ecologically meaningful processes for species (i.e., fire disturbance) when modeling species’ distribution might contribute to a better explanation of species’ colonization dynamics.

Vallecillo, S., Brotons, L. & Thuiller, W. 2009. Dangers of predicting bird species distributions in response to land-cover changes. Ecological Applications, 19:538-549.

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