Get access

The biogeography of prediction error: why does the introduced range of the fire ant over-predict its native range?


*Correspondence: Matthew Fitzpatrick, University of Tennessee, 569 Dabney Hall, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-1610, USA. E-mail:


Aim  The use of species distribution models (SDMs) to predict biological invasions is a rapidly developing area of ecology. However, most studies investigating SDMs typically ignore prediction errors and instead focus on regions where native distributions correctly predict invaded ranges. We investigated the ecological significance of prediction errors using reciprocal comparisons between the predicted invaded and native range of the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) (hereafter called the fire ant). We questioned whether fire ants occupy similar environments in their native and introduced range, how the environments that fire ants occupy in their introduced range changed through time relative to their native range, and where fire ant propagules are likely to have originated.

Location  We developed models for South America and the conterminous United States (US) of America.

Methods  We developed models using the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Prediction (GARP) and 12 environmental layers. Occurrence data from the native range in South America were used to predict the introduced range in the US and vice versa. Further, time-series data recording the invasion of fire ants in the US were used to predict the native range.

Results  Native range occurrences under-predicted the invasive potential of fire ants, whereas occurrence data from the US over-predicted the southern boundary of the native range. Secondly, introduced fire ants initially established in environments similar to those in their native range, but subsequently invaded harsher environments. Time-series data suggest that fire ant propagules originated near the southern limit of their native range.

Conclusions  Our findings suggest that fire ants from a peripheral native population established in an environment similar to their native environment, and then ultimately expanded into environments in which they are not found in their native range. We argue that reciprocal comparisons between predicted native and invaded ranges will facilitate a better understanding of the biogeography of invasive and native species and of the role of SDMs in predicting future distributions.