Species distribution models are commonly used to predict species responses to climate change. However, their usefulness in conservation planning and policy is controversial because they are difficult to validate across time and space. Here we capitalize on small mammal surveys repeated over a century in Yosemite National Park, USA, to assess accuracy of model predictions. Historical (1900–1940) climate, vegetation, and species occurrence data were used to develop single- and multi-species multivariate adaptive regression spline distribution models for three species of chipmunk. Models were projected onto the current (1980–2007) environmental surface and then tested against modern field resurveys of each species. We evaluated models both within and between time periods and found that even with the inclusion of biotic predictors, climate alone is the dominant predictor explaining the distribution of the study species within a time period. However, climate was not consistently an adequate predictor of the distributional change observed in all three species across time. For two of the three species, climate alone or climate and vegetation models showed good predictive performance across time. The stability of the distribution from the past to present observed in the third species, however, was not predicted by our modeling approach. Our results demonstrate that correlative distribution models are useful in understanding species' potential responses to environmental change, but also show how changes in species-environment correlations through time can limit the predictive performance of models.
If you can't find a tool you're looking for, please click the link at the top of the page to "Go to old article view". Alternatively, view our Knowledge Base articles for additional help. Your feedback is important to us, so please let us know if you have comments or ideas for improvement.