• Bioclimatic models;
  • bird atlas;
  • birds;
  • climate;
  • distribution;
  • Finland;
  • land cover;
  • modelling


Aim  We explored the importance of climate and land cover in bird species distribution models on multiple spatial scales. In particular, we tested whether the integration of land cover data improves the performance of pure bioclimatic models.

Location  Finland, northern Europe.

Methods  The data of the bird atlas survey carried out in 1986–89 using a 10 × 10 km uniform grid system in Finland were employed in the analyses. Land cover and climatic variables were compiled using the same grid system. The dependent and explanatory variables were resampled to 20-km, 40-km and 80-km resolutions. Generalized additive models (GAM) were constructed for each of the 88 land bird species studied in order to estimate the probability of occurrence as a function of (1) climate and (2) climate and land cover variables. Model accuracy was measured by a cross-validation approach using the area under the curve (AUC) of a receiver operating characteristic (ROC) plot.

Results  In general, the accuracies of the 88 bird–climate models were good at all studied resolutions. However, the inclusion of land cover increased the performance of 79 and 78 of the 88 bioclimatic models at 10-km and 20-km resolutions, respectively. There was no significant improvement at the 40-km resolution. In contrast to the finer resolutions, the inclusion of land cover variables decreased the modelling accuracy at 80km resolution.

Main conclusions  Our results suggest that the determinants of bird species distributions are hierarchically structured: climatic variables are large-scale determinants, followed by land cover at finer resolutions. The majority of the land bird species in Finland are rather clearly correlated with climate, and bioclimate envelope models can provide useful tools for identifying the relationships between these species and the environment at resolutions ranging from 10 km to 80 km. However, the notable contribution of land cover to the accuracy of bioclimatic models at 10–20-km resolutions indicates that the integration of climate and land cover information can improve our understanding and model predictions of biogeographical patterns under global change.