Models combining multiple scales of inference capture hydrologic and climatic drivers of riparian tree distributions

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Predicting species geographic distributions is key to managing invasive species, conserving biodiversity, and understanding species' environmental requirements. Species distribution models (SDMs) commonly focus on climatic predictors, but other environmental factors can also be essential, particularly for species with specialized habitats defined by hydrologic, topographic, or edaphic conditions (e.g., riparian, wetland, alpine, coastal, serpentine). Here, we demonstrate a novel approach for capturing strong effects of both hydrologic and climatic predictors in SDMs for riparian plants, by merging analyses targeted at environmental drivers within riparian ecosystems and across the western USA (3.8 × 106 km2). We developed presence-background SDMs from five algorithms for three invasive riparian trees (Tamarix ramossisima/chinensis [saltcedar], Elaeagnus angustifolia [Russian olive], and Ulmus pumila [Siberian elm]) and three native Populus spp. (cottonwoods). We used separate background datasets to develop models with different spatial scales of inference: (1) spatially filtered random points to represent available habitat across the study area and (2) target-group points from Salix (willow) occurrences to represent available riparian habitat. Random-background models captured hydrologic drivers of riparian tree distributions relative to the largely upland western USA, whereas Salix-background models captured climatic drivers within the context of riparian ecosystems. Combining predictions from the two backgrounds identified hydrologically suitable habitats within climatically suitable regions, resulting in fewer false “absences” than either background alone, improving predictions over previous SDMs, and providing more complete information to guide management decisions. Surprisingly, the predicted habitat for U. pumila, a newly recognized riparian invader, was as or more extensive than Populus deltoides/fremontiiT. ramossisima/chinensis, and E. angustifolia, the most common riparian tree complexes in the western USA. Watersheds constituting 20% of U. pumila predicted habitat contained no occurrence records, indicating high risk of future and unrecognized invasions. Combining models from random and ecosystem-specific target-group backgrounds may improve SDMs for species from many specialized habitats, providing a method to link predicted distributions to localized geographic features while capturing broad-scale climatic requirements.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Models combining multiple scales of inference capture hydrologic and climatic drivers of riparian tree distributions
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4305
Volume 13
Issue 12
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description e4305, 22 p.
Country United States
Other Geospatial western United States
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