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Nature. 2004 Nov 18;432(7015):393-6.

Spatial patterns in species distributions reveal biodiversity change.

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Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.


Interpretation of global biodiversity change is hampered by a lack of information on the historical status of most species in most parts of the world. Here we show that declines and increases can be deduced from current species distributions alone, using spatial patterns of occupancy combined with distribution size. Declining species show sparse, fragmented distributions for their distribution size, reflecting the extinction process; expanding species show denser, more aggregated distributions, reflecting colonization. Past distribution size changes for British butterflies were deduced successfully from current distributions, and former distributions had some power to predict future change. What is more, the relationship between distribution pattern and change in British butterflies independently predicted distribution change for butterfly species in Flanders, Belgium, and distribution change in British rare plant species is similarly related to spatial distribution pattern. This link between current distribution patterns and processes of distribution change could be used to assess relative levels of threat facing different species, even for regions and taxa lacking detailed historical and ecological information.

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