Modelling both dominance and species distribution provides a more complete picture of changes to mangrove ecosystems under climate change

Beth Crase, Peter A. Vesk, Adam Liedloff, Brendan Wintle

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Dominant species influence the composition and abundance of other species present in ecosystems. However, forecasts of distributional change under future climates have predominantly focused on changes in species distribution and ignored possible changes in spatial and temporal patterns of dominance. We develop forecasts of spatial changes for the distribution of species dominance, defined in terms of basal area, and for species occurrence, in response to sea level rise for three tree taxa within an extensive mangrove ecosystem in northern Australia. Three new metrics are provided, indicating the area expected to be suitable under future conditions (Eoccupied), the instability of suitable area (Einstability) and the overlap between the current and future spatial distribution (Eoverlap). The current dominance and occurrence were modelled in relation to a set of environmental variables using boosted regression tree (BRT) models, under two scenarios of seedling establishment: unrestricted and highly restricted. While forecasts of spatial change were qualitatively similar for species occurrence and dominance, the models of species dominance exhibited higher metrics of model fit and predictive performance, and the spatial pattern of future dominance was less similar to the current pattern than was the case for the distributions of species occurrence. This highlights the possibility of greater changes in the spatial patterning of mangrove tree species dominance under future sea level rise. Under the restricted seedling establishment scenario, the area occupied by or dominated by a species declined between 42.1% and 93.8%, while for unrestricted seedling establishment, the area suitable for dominance or occurrence of each species varied from a decline of 68.4% to an expansion of 99.5%. As changes in the spatial patterning of dominance are likely to cause a cascade of effects throughout the ecosystem, forecasting spatial changes in dominance provides new and complementary information in addition to that provided by forecasts of species occurrence.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3005-3020
    JournalGlobal Change Biology
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - 8 Jun 2015


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