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Disregarding topographical heterogeneity biases species turnover assessments based on bioclimatic models


  • M. LUOTO,

    1. Thule Institute, University of Oulu, PO Box 7300, FIN-90014 Oulu, Finland,
    2. Department of Geography, University of Oulu, PO Box 3000, FIN-90014 Oulu, Finland,
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    • 1Present address: Department of Geography, University of Oulu, PO Box 3000, FIN-90014 Oulu, Finland.


    1. Research Department, Finnish Environment Institute, Research Programme for Biodiversity, PO Box 140, FIN-00251 Helsinki, Finland
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Miska Luoto, e-mail:


We investigated whether the inclusion of topographical heterogeneity in bioclimatic envelope models would significantly alter predictions of climate change – induced broad-scale butterfly species range size changes in Europe. Using generalized additive models, and data on current climate and species distributions and two different climate scenarios (HadCM3A2 and HadCM3B2) for the period 2051–2080, we developed predictions of the currently suitable area and potential range size changes of 100 European butterfly species. The inclusion of elevation range increased the predictive accuracy of climate-only models for 86 of the 100 species. The differences in projected future distributions were most notable in mountainous areas, where the climate–topography models projected only ca. half of the species losses than the climate-only models. By contrast, climate–topography models estimated double the losses of species than climate-only models in the flatlands regions. Our findings suggest that disregarding topographical heterogeneity may cause a significant source of error in broad-scale bioclimatic modelling. Mountainous regions are likely to be even more important for future conservation of species than had until now been predicted, based on bioclimatic envelope models that did not take an explicit account of elevational range of grid squares.