1. Correlative species distribution models (SDMs) assess relationships between species distribution data and environmental features, to evaluate the environmental suitability (ES) of a given area for a species, by providing a measure of the probability of presence. If the output of SDMs represents the relationships between habitat features and species performance well, SDM results can be related also to other key parameters of populations, including reproductive parameters. To test this hypothesis, we evaluated whether SDM results can be used as a proxy of reproductive parameters (breeding output, territory size) in red-backed shrikes (Lanius collurio).
2. The distribution of 726 shrike territories in Northern Italy was obtained through multiple focused surveys; for a subset of pairs, we also measured territory area and number of fledged juveniles. We used Maximum Entropy modelling to build a SDM on the basis of territory distribution. We used generalized least squares and spatial generalized mixed models to relate territory size and number of fledged juveniles to SDM suitability, while controlling for spatial autocorrelation.
3. Species distribution models predicted shrike distribution very well. Territory size was negatively related to suitability estimated through SDM, while the number of fledglings significantly increased with the suitability of the territory. This was true also when SDM was built using only spatially and temporally independent data.
4. Results show a clear relationship between ES estimated through presence-only SDMs and two key parameters related to species’ reproduction, suggesting that suitability estimated by SDM, and habitat quality determining reproduction parameters in our model system, are correlated. Our study shows the potential use of SDMs to infer important fitness parameters; this information can have great importance in management and conservation.