Aim The assumption of equilibrium between organisms and their environment is a standard working postulate in species distribution models (SDMs). However, this assumption is typically violated in models of biological invasions where range expansions are highly constrained by dispersal and colonization processes. Here, we examined how stage of invasion affects the extent to which occurrence data represent the ecological niche of organisms and, in turn, influences spatial prediction of species’ potential distributions.
Location Six ecoregions in western Oregon, USA.
Methods We compiled occurrence data from 697 field plots collected over a 9-year period (2001–09) of monitoring the spread of invasive forest pathogen Phytophthora ramorum. Using these data, we applied ecological-niche factor analysis to calibrate models of potential distribution across different years of colonization. We accounted for natural variation and uncertainties in model evaluation by further investigating three hypothetical scenarios of varying equilibrium in a simulated virtual species, for which the ‘true’ potential distribution was known.
Results We confirm our hypothesis that SDMs calibrated in early stages of invasion are less accurate than models calibrated under scenarios closer to equilibrium. SDMs that are developed in early stages of invasion tend to underpredict the potential range compared to models that are built in later stages of invasion.
Main conclusions A full environmental niche of invasive species cannot be effectively captured with data from a realized distribution that is restricted by processes preventing full occupancy of suitable habitats. If SDMs are to be used effectively in conservation and management, stage of invasion needs to be considered to avoid underestimation of habitats at risk of invasion.