Life History Traits and Niche Instability Impact Accuracy and Temporal Transferability for Historically Calibrated Distribution Models of North American Birds

PLOS_ONEPLOS | One, Published 09 March 2016

By Guinevere O. U. Wogan

“A primary assumption of environmental niche models (ENMs) is that models are both accurate and transferable across geography or time; however, recent work has shown that models may be accurate but not highly transferable. While some of this is due to modeling technique, individual species ecologies may also underlie this phenomenon. Life history traits certainly influence the accuracy of predictive ENMs, but their impact on model transferability is less understood. This study investigated how life history traits influence the predictive accuracy and transferability of ENMs using historically calibrated models for birds.


“In this study I used historical occurrence and climate data (1950-1990s) to build models for a sample of birds, and then projected them forward to the ‘future’ (1960-1990s). The models were then validated against models generated from occurrence data at that ‘future’ time. Internal and external validation metrics, as well as metrics assessing transferability, and Generalized Linear Models were used to identify life history traits that were significant predictors of accuracy and transferability. This study found that the predictive ability of ENMs differs with regard to life history characteristics such as range, migration, and habitat, and that the rarity versus commonness of a species affects the predicted stability and overlap and hence the transferability of projected models. Projected ENMs with both high accuracy and transferability scores, still sometimes suffered from over- or under- predicted species ranges. Life history traits certainly influenced the accuracy of predictive ENMs for birds, but while aspects of geographic range impact model transferability, the mechanisms underlying this are less understood.”