A GIS Model Predicting Potential Distributions of a Lineage: A Test Case on Hermit Spiders (Nephilidae: Nephilengys)

PLoS ONE: Research Article, published 06 Jan 2012

Magdalena Năpăruş and Matjaž Kuntner

“Background: Although numerous studies model species distributions, these models are almost exclusively on single species, while studies of evolutionary lineages are preferred as they by definition study closely related species with shared history and ecology. Hermit spiders, genus Nephilengys, represent an ecologically important but relatively species-poor lineage with a globally allopatric distribution. Here, we model Nephilengys global habitat suitability based on known localities and four ecological parameters.

Predicted habitat suitability for Nephilengys cruentata within its directional distribution area

Predicted habitat suitability for Nephilengys cruentata within its directional distribution area

“Methodology/Principal Findings: We geo-referenced 751 localities for the four most studied Nephilengys species: N. cruentata (Africa, New World), N. livida (Madagascar), N. malabarensis (S-SE Asia), and N. papuana (Australasia). For each locality we overlaid four ecological parameters: elevation, annual mean temperature, annual mean precipitation, and land cover. We used linear backward regression within ArcGIS to select two best fit parameters per species model, and ModelBuilder to map areas of high, moderate and low habitat suitability for each species within its directional distribution. For Nephilengys cruentata suitable habitats are mid elevation tropics within Africa (natural range), a large part of Brazil and the Guianas (area of synanthropic spread), and even North Africa, Mediterranean, and Arabia. Nephilengys livida is confined to its known range with suitable habitats being mid-elevation natural and cultivated lands. Nephilengys malabarensis, however, ranges across the Equator throughout Asia where the model predicts many areas of high ecological suitability in the wet tropics. Its directional distribution suggests the species may potentially spread eastwards to New Guinea where the suitable areas of N. malabarensis largely surpass those of the native N. papuana, a species that prefers dry forests of Australian (sub)tropics.

“Conclusions: Our model is a customizable GIS tool intended to predict current and future potential distributions of globally distributed terrestrial lineages. Its predictive potential may be tested in foreseeing species distribution shifts due to habitat destruction and global climate change.”

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