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Ecology. 2009 May;90(5):1301-13.

Comparing niche- and process-based models to reduce prediction uncertainty in species range shifts under climate change.

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  • 1Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, Unité Mixte de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique 5175, Equipe BIOFLUX, CNRS, 1919, route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 5, France.


Obtaining reliable predictions of species range shifts under climate change is a crucial challenge for ecologists and stakeholders. At the continental scale, niche-based models have been widely used in the last 10 years to predict the potential impacts of climate change on species distributions all over the world, although these models do not include any mechanistic relationships. In contrast, species-specific, process-based predictions remain scarce at the continental scale. This is regrettable because to secure relevant and accurate predictions it is always desirable to compare predictions derived from different kinds of models applied independently to the same set of species and using the same raw data. Here we compare predictions of range shifts under climate change scenarios for 2100 derived from niche-based models with those of a process-based model for 15 North American boreal and temperate tree species. A general pattern emerged from our comparisons: niche-based models tend to predict a stronger level of extinction and a greater proportion of colonization than the process-based model. This result likely arises because niche-based models do not take phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation into account. Nevertheless, as the two kinds of models rely on different assumptions, their complementarity is revealed by common findings. Both modeling approaches highlight a major potential limitation on species tracking their climatic niche because of migration constraints and identify similar zones where species extirpation is likely. Such convergent predictions from models built on very different principles provide a useful way to offset uncertainties at the continental scale. This study shows that the use in concert of both approaches with their own caveats and advantages is crucial to obtain more robust results and that comparisons among models are needed in the near future to gain accuracy regarding predictions of range shifts under climate change.

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