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Research article2024Peer reviewed

Underprediction of extirpation and colonisation following climate and land-use change using species distribution models

Auffret, Alistair G.; Nenzen, Hedvig; Polaina, Ester


AimTo evaluate the performance of species distribution models in predicting observed colonisations, persistences and extirpations in response to changes in climate and land use over a multi-decadal period.LocationSweden.MethodsWe use historical (early 20th century) land use and climate data to build species distribution models for 84 plant species across three provinces of Sweden. Model performance was then evaluated internally using a subset of the historical data for cross-validation, as well as by using the models to project occurrences to the modern day and validating them with observed occurrences from 1990 to 2020. We then analysed predicted and observed occurrences in the modern period in terms of persistence, extirpation (local extinction) and colonisation in relation to species' habitat and climate associations.ResultsWe found overall high agreement between evaluation methods, although internal evaluation gave consistently higher values for model performance (using true skill statistic, TSS). Overall, extirpations were worst predicted, with on average fewer than one-third of each species' extirpations being foreseen by the models. Colonisations were better predicted, while persistences were relatively well-predicted. Predictive accuracy of colonisations was higher for species with relatively warmer temperature associations (climate-driven expansion), while extirpations were better predicted in cool-related species (retractions at cool edges). Colonisations of forest-associated species were more common than predicted (underpredicted), despite widespread patterns of afforestation. Assessing grid-cell level turnover, we found that in grid cells that experienced the largest changes in terms of climate and land use, predicted extirpations were less likely to have happened.Main ConclusionsWe found that commonly applied modelling approaches have limited ability to predict observed changes in species occurrences, especially extirpations. This suggests that we should take predictions of future biodiversity loss very seriously. However, the ability for species to (at least temporarily) persist in unsuitable conditions could be an opportunity for biodiversity conservation.


biodiversity; climate change; extinction debt; habitat destruction; land-use change; plants; SDMs

Published in

Diversity and Distributions
Publisher: WILEY