Environmentally constrained null models: site suitability as occupancy criterion


  • Pedro R. Peres-Neto,

  • Julian D. Olden,

  • Donald A. Jackson

P. R. Peres-Neto, J. D. Olden and D. A. Jackson, Dept of Zoology, Univ. of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3G5 (pperes@zoo.utoronto.ca) (present address of JDO: Dept of Biology, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, CO 80523-1878, USA).


Null models have proven to be an important quantitative tool in the search for ecological processes driving local diversity and species distribution. However, there remains an important concern that different processes, such as environmental conditions and biotic interactions may produce similar patterns in species distributions. In this paper we present an analytical protocol for incorporating habitat suitability as an occupancy criterion in null models. Our approach involves modeling species presence or absence as a function of environmental conditions, and using the estimated site-specific probabilities of occurrence as the likelihood of species occupancy of a site during the generation of “null communities”. We validated this approach by showing that type I error is not affected by the use of probabilities as a site occupancy criterion and is robust against a variety of predictive performances of the species-environmental models. We describe the expected differences when contrasting classical and the environmentally constrained null models, and illustrate our approach with a data set of Dutch dune hunting spider assemblages. Together, an environmentally constrained approach to null models will provide a more robust evaluation of species associations by facilitating the distinction between mutually exclusive processes that may shape species distributions and community assembly.