Bioclimate envelope model predictions for natural resource management: dealing with uncertainty


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1. Bioclimate envelope models are widely used to predict the potential distribution of species under climate change, but they are conceptually also suitable to match policies and practices to anticipated or observed climate change, for example through species choice in reforestation. Projections of bioclimate envelope models, however, come with large uncertainties due to different climate change scenarios, modelling methods and other factors.

2  In this paper we present a novel approach to evaluate uncertainty in model-based recommendations for natural resource management. Rather than evaluating variability in modelling results as a whole, we extract a particular statistic of interest from multiple model runs, e.g. species suitability for a particular reforestation site. Then, this statistic is subjected to analysis of variance, aiming to narrow the range of projections that practitioners need to consider.

3. In four case studies for western Canada we evaluate five sources of uncertainty with two to five treatment levels, including modelling methods, interpolation type for climate data, inclusion of topo-edaphic variables, choice of general circulation models, and choice of emission scenarios. As dependent variables, we evaluate changes to tree species habitat and ecosystem distributions under 144 treatment combinations.

4. For these case studies, we find that the inclusion of topo-edaphic variables as predictors reduces projected habitat shifts by a quarter, and general circulation models had major main effects. Our contrasting modelling approaches primarily contributed to uncertainty through interaction terms with climate change predictions, i.e. the methods behaved differently for particular climate change scenarios (e.g. warm & moist scenarios) but similar for others.

5.Synthesis and applications. Partitioning of variance components helps with the interpretation of modelling results and reveals how models can most efficiently be improved. Quantifying variance components for main effects and interactions among sources of uncertainty also offers researchers the opportunity to filter out biologically and statistically unreasonable modelling results, providing practitioners with an improved range of predictions for climate-informed natural resource management.