The need for large-scale distribution data to estimate regional changes in species richness under future climate change

Nicolas Titeux, Dirk Maes, Toon Van Daele, Thierry Onkelinx, Risto K. Heikkinen, Helena Romo, Enrique García-Barros, Miguel L. Munguira, Wilfried Thuiller, Chris A. M. van Swaay, Oliver Schweiger, Josef Settele, Alexander Harpke, Martin Wiemers, Lluís Brotons, Miska Luoto

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Aim Species distribution models built with geographically restricted data often fail to capture the full range of conditions experienced by species across their entire distribution area. Using such models to predict distribution shifts under future environmental change may, therefore, produce biased projections. However, restricted-scale models have the potential to include a larger sample of taxa for which distribution data is available and to provide finer-resolution projections that are better applied to conservation planning than the forecasts of broad-scale models. We examine the circumstances under which the projected shifts in species richness patterns derived from restricted-scale and broad-scale models are most likely to be similar.
Location Europe.
Methods The distribution of butterflies in Finland, Belgium/Netherlands and Spain was modelled based on restricted-scale (local) and broad-scale (continental) distribution and climate data. Both types of models were projected under future climate change scenarios to assess potential changes in species richness.
Results In Finland, species richness was projected to increase strongly based on restricted-scale models and to decrease slightly with broad-scale models. In Belgium/Netherlands, restricted-scale models projected a larger decrease in richness than broad-scale models. In Spain, both models projected a slight decrease in richness. We obtained similar projections based on restricted-scale and broad-scale models only in Spain because the climatic conditions available here covered the warm part of the distributions of butterflies better than in Finland and Belgium/Netherlands.
Main conclusions Restricted-scale models that fail to capture the warm part of species distributions produce biased estimates of future changes in species richness when projected under climatic conditions with no modern analogue in the study area. We recommend the use of distribution data beyond the boundaries of the study area to capture the part of the species response curves reflecting the climatic conditions that will prevail within that area in the future.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Pages (from-to)1-15
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Thematic list

  • Climate
  • Insects
  • Conservation

EWI Biomedical sciences

  • B280-animal-ecology
  • B320-zoogeography

Taxonomic list

  • butterflies (Lepidoptera)


  • nature policy
  • policy support (inc. instruments)
  • biodiversity policy

Geographic list

  • Belgium
  • Netherlands
  • Europe


  • modelling


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