Aim Geographic distributions of species are constrained by several factors acting at different scales, with climate assumed to be a major determinant at broad extents. Recent studies, however, have challenged this statement and indicated that climate may not dominate among the factors governing geographic distributions of species. Here, we argue that these results are misleading due to the lack of consideration of the geographic area that has been accessible to the species.
Location North America.
Methods We generated null distributions for 75 North American endemic and 19 non-endemic bird species. For each species, climatic envelopes of observed and null distributions were modelled using neural networks and generalized linear models, and seven climatic predictors. Values of the area under the receiver–operating characteristic curve (AUC) based on models of observed distributions were compared with corresponding AUC values for the null distributions.
Results More than 82% of the endemic species showed AUC higher for the observed than for the null distributions, while 63% of the non-endemic species showed such a pattern.
Main conclusions We demonstrate a dominant climatic signal in shaping North American bird distributions. Our results attest to the importance of climate in determining species distributions and support the use of climate-envelope models for estimating potential distributional areas at the appropriate spatial scales.