Modeling plant ranges over 75 years of climate change in California, USA: temporal transferability and species traits

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Dobrowski, Solomon Z., Thorne, James H., Greenberg, Jonathan A., Safford, Hugh D., Mynsberge, Alison R., Crimmins, Shawn M., and Swanson, Alan K.

Species distribution model (SDM) projections under future climate scenarios are increasingly being used to inform resource management and conservation strategies. A critical assumption for projecting climate change responses is that SDMs are transferable through time, an assumption that is largely untested because investigators often lack temporally independent data for assessing transferability. Further, understanding how the ecology of species influences temporal transferability is critical yet almost wholly lacking. This raises two questions. (1) Are SDM projections transferable in time? (2) Does temporal transferability relate to species ecological traits? To address these questions we developed SDMs for 133 vascular plant species using data from the mountain ranges of California (USA) from two time periods: the 1930s and the present day. We forecast historical models over 75 years of measured climate change and assessed their projections against current distributions. Similarly, we hindcast contemporary models and compared their projections to historical data. We quantified transferability and related it to species ecological traits including physiognomy, endemism, dispersal capacity, fire adaptation, and commonness. We found that non-endemic species with greater dispersal capacity, intermediate levels of prevalence, and little fire adaptation had higher transferability than endemic species with limited dispersal capacity that rely on fire for reproduction. We demonstrate that variability in model performance was driven principally by differences among species as compared to model algorithms or time period of model calibration. Further, our results suggest that the traits correlated with prediction accuracy in a single time period may not be related to transferability between time periods. Our findings provide a priori guidance for the suitability of SDM as an approach for forecasting climate change responses for certain taxa.


Dobrowski, S. Z., J. H. Thorne, J. A. Greenberg, H. D. Safford, A. R. Mynsberge, S. M. Crimmins, and A. K. Swanson. 2010. Modeling plant ranges over 75 years of climate change in California, USA: temporal transferability and species traits. Ecological Monographs 81:241–257. doi: 10.1890/10-1325.1.