Are stacked species distribution models accurate at predicting multiple levels of diversity along a rainfall gradient?

Israel Del Toro, Relena R. Ribbons, Jodie Hayward, Alan N. Andersen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We use observed patterns of species richness and composition of ant communities along a 1000 mm rainfall gradient in northern Australian savanna to assess the accuracy of species richness and turnover predictions derived from stacked species distribution models (S-SDMs) and constrained by macroecological models (MEMs). We systematically sampled ants at 15 sites at 50 km intervals along the rainfall gradient in 2012 and 2013. Using the observed data, we created MEMs of species richness, composition and turnover. We built distribution models for 135 of the observed species using data from museum collections and online databases. We compared two approaches of stacking SDMs and three modelling algorithms to identify the most accurate way of predicting richness and composition. We then applied the same beta diversity metrics to compare the observed versus predicted patterns. Stacked SDMs consistently over-predicted local species richness, and there was a mismatch between the observed pattern of richness estimated from the MEM, and the pattern predicted by S-SDMs. The most accurate richness and turnover predictions occurred when the stacked models were rank-ordered by their habitat suitability and constrained by the observed MEM richness predictions. In contrast with species richness, the predictions obtained by the MEM of community similarity, composition and turnover matched those predicted by the S-SDMs. S-SDMs regulated by MEMs may therefore be a useful tool in predicting compositional patterns despite being unreliable estimators of species richness. Our results highlight that the choice of species distribution model, the stacking method used, and underlying macroecological patterns all influence the accuracy of community assembly predictions derived from S-SDMS.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)105-113
    Number of pages9
    JournalAustral Ecology
    Issue number1
    Early online date21 Oct 2018
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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