Aim To investigate the impact of positional uncertainty in species occurrences on the predictions of seven commonly used species distribution models (SDMs), and explore its interaction with spatial autocorrelation in predictors.
Methods A series of artificial datasets covering 155 scenarios including different combinations of five positional uncertainty scenarios and 31 spatial autocorrelation scenarios were simulated. The level of positional uncertainty was defined by the standard deviation of a normally distributed zero-mean random variable. Each dataset included two environmental gradients (predictor variables) and one set of species occurrence sample points (response variable). Seven commonly used models were selected to develop SDMs: generalized linear models, generalized additive models, boosted regression trees, multivariate adaptive regression spline, random forests, genetic algorithm for rule-set production and maximum entropy. A probabilistic approach was employed to model and simulate five levels of error in the species locations. To analyse the propagation of positional uncertainty, Monte Carlo simulation was applied to each scenario for each SDM. The models were evaluated for performance using simulated independent test data with Cohen’s Kappa and the area under the receiver operating characteristic curve.
Results Positional uncertainty in species location led to a reduction in prediction accuracy for all SDMs, although the magnitude of the reduction varied between SDMs. In all cases the magnitude of this impact varied according to the degree of spatial autocorrelation in predictors and the levels of positional uncertainty. It was shown that when the range of spatial autocorrelation in the predictors was less than or equal to three times the standard deviation of the positional error, the models were less affected by error and, consequently, had smaller decreases in prediction accuracy. When the range of spatial autocorrelation in predictors was larger than three times the standard deviation of positional error, the prediction accuracy was low for all scenarios.
Main conclusions The potential impact of positional uncertainty in species occurrences on the predictions of SDMs can be understood by comparing it with the spatial autocorrelation range in predictor variables.