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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Dating past colonization events to project future species distributions

Singer, Alexander; Bradter, Ute; Fabritius, Henna; Snall, Tord


Knowledge on the colonization process is important to understand and project future species distributions. The classic method to quantify colonization rates is time-consuming, as it requires recording infrequent colonization events during extensive, repeated surveys. We present the novel "dating-based approach" that requires one complete survey of species occurrence and estimates of subpopulation ages to back-date colonization events. These data allow statistical reconstruction of a virtual, repeated survey to estimate colonization rates in response to environmental covariates or connectivity. With only 30% of survey effort, the dating-based approach provided similar estimates of rate and distance of dispersal of a metapopulation of the epiphytic moss Neckera pennata as the classic approach relying on long-term surveys. Projections of the number of colonization events during the next 100 years differed by only 2.3% (95%-credible interval: [-1.9%; 7.1%]) between methods. The dating-based approach is applicable across spatial scales and promises enhanced species distribution models with urgently needed quantitative dispersal information.


back-casting; colonization; epidemiology; epiphyte; metapopulation; Neckera pennata; spatiotemporal spread; species distribution

Published in

Methods in Ecology and Evolution
2019, Volume: 10, number: 4, pages: 471-480
Publisher: WILEY