Do traits of plant species predict the efficacy of species distribution models for finding new occurences?

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McCune, Jenny L.
Rosner-Katz, Hanna
Bennett, Joseph R.
Schuster, Richard
Kharouba, Heather M.
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Species distribution models (SDMs) are used to test ecological theory and to direct targeted surveys for species of conservation concern. Several studies have tested for an influence of species traits on the predictive accuracy of SDMs. However, most used the same set of environmental predictors for all species and/or did not use truly independent data to test SDM accuracy. We built eight SDMs for each of 24 plant species of conservation concern, varying the environmental predictors included in each SDM version. We then measured the accuracy of each SDM using independent presence and absence data to calculate area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) and true positive rate (TPR). We used generalized linear mixed models to test for a relationship between species traits and SDM accuracy, while accounting for variation in SDM performance that might be introduced by different predictor sets. All traits affected one or both SDM accuracy measures. Species with lighter seeds, animal-dispersed seeds, and a higher density of occurrences had higher AUC and TPR than other species, all else being equal. Long-lived woody species had higher AUC than herbaceous species, but lower TPR. These results support the hypothesis that the strength of species–environment correlations is affected by characteristics of species or their geographic distributions. However, because each species has multiple traits, and because AUC and TPR can be affected differently, there is no straightforward way to determine a priori which species will yield useful SDMs based on their traits. Most species yielded at least one useful SDM. Therefore, it is worthwhile to build and test SDMs for the purpose of finding new populations of plant species of conservation concern, regardless of these species’ traits.
Open access article. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International LIcense (CC BY 4.0) applies
Dispersal , Generalist , Lifespan , Niche models , Range size , Specialist , Species distribution models
McCune, J. L., Rosner-Katz, H., Bennett, J. R., Schuster, R., & Kharouba, H. M. (2020). Do traits of plant species predict the efficacy of species distribution models for finding new occurences? Ecology and Evolution, 10(11), 5001-5014.