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How complex should models be? Comparing correlative and mechanistic range dynamics models


Fordham, DA and Bertelsmeier, C and Brook, BW and Early, R and Neto, D and Brown, SC and Ollier, S and Araujo, MB, How complex should models be? Comparing correlative and mechanistic range dynamics models, Global Change Biology, 24, (3) pp. 1357-1370. ISSN 1354-1013 (2017) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2017 Commonwealth of Australia

DOI: doi:10.1111/gcb.13935


Criticism has been levelled at climate-change-induced forecasts of species range shifts that do not account explicitly for complex population dynamics. The relative importance of such dynamics under climate change is, however, undetermined because direct tests comparing the performance of demographic models vs. simpler ecological niche models are still lacking owing to difficulties in evaluating forecasts using real-world data. We provide the first comparison of the skill of coupled ecological-niche-population models and ecological niche models in predicting documented shifts in the ranges of 20 British breeding bird species across a 40-year period. Forecasts from models calibrated with data centred on 1970 were evaluated using data centred on 2010. We found that more complex coupled ecological-niche-population models (that account for dispersal and metapopulation dynamics) tend to have higher predictive accuracy in forecasting species range shifts than structurally simpler models that only account for variation in climate. However, these better forecasts are achieved only if ecological responses to climate change are simulated without static snapshots of historic land use, taken at a single point in time. In contrast, including both static land use and dynamic climate variables in simpler ecological niche models improve forecasts of observed range shifts. Despite being less skilful at predicting range changes at the grid-cell level, ecological niche models do as well, or better, than more complex models at predicting the magnitude of relative change in range size. Therefore, ecological niche models can provide a reasonable first approximation of the magnitude of speciesí potential range shifts, especially when more detailed data are lacking on dispersal dynamics, demographic processes underpinning population performance, and change in land cover.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:climate change, hybrid ecological niche model, independent model validation, land use, mechanistic model, metapopulation and dispersal dynamics, species distribution model, transferability
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Other biological sciences
Research Field:Global change biology
Objective Division:Environmental Policy, Climate Change and Natural Hazards
Objective Group:Understanding climate change
Objective Field:Climate change models
UTAS Author:Brook, BW (Professor Barry Brook)
ID Code:122677
Year Published:2017
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (FL160100101)
Web of Science® Times Cited:57
Deposited By:Plant Science
Deposited On:2017-11-22
Last Modified:2022-08-19

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