Benchmarking novel approaches for modelling species range dynamics

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Zurell, Damaris, Wilfried Thuiller, Jörn Pagel, Juliano S Cabral, Tamara Münkemüller, Dominique Gravel, Stefan Dullinger, Signe Normand, Katjia H. Schiffers, Kara A. Moore, and Niklaus E. Zimmermann
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Increasing biodiversity loss due to climate change is one of the most vital challenges of the 21st century. To anticipate and mitigate biodiversity loss, models are needed that reliably project species’ range dynamics and extinction risks. Recently, several new approaches to model range dynamics have been developed to supplement correlative species distribution models (SDMs), but applications clearly lag behind model development. Indeed, no comparative analysis has been performed to evaluate their performance. Here, we build on process-based, simulated data for benchmarking five range (dynamic) models of varying complexity including classical SDMs, SDMs coupled with simple dispersal or more complex population dynamic models (SDM hybrids), and a hierarchical Bayesian process-based dynamic range model (DRM). We specifically test the effects of demographic and community processes on model predictive performance. Under current climate, DRMs performed best, although only marginally. Under climate change, predictive performance varied considerably, with no clear winners. Yet, all range dynamic models improved predictions under climate change substantially compared to purely correlative SDMs, and the population dynamic models also predicted reasonable extinction risks for most scenarios. When benchmarking data were simulated with more complex demographic and community processes, simple SDM hybrids including only dispersal often proved most reliable. Finally, we found that structural decisions during model building can have great impact on model accuracy, but prior system knowledge on important processes can reduce these uncertainties considerably. Our results reassure the clear merit in using dynamic approaches for modelling species’ response to climate change but also emphasise several needs for further model and data improvement. We propose and discuss perspectives for improving range projections through combination of multiple models and for making these approaches operational for large numbers of species. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


Zurell, Damaris, Wilfried Thuiller, Jörn Pagel, Juliano S Cabral, Tamara Münkemüller, Dominique Gravel, Stefan Dullinger, et al. 2016. “Benchmarking Novel Approaches for Modelling Species Range Dynamics.” Global Change Biology, February/ doi:10.1111/gcb.13251.