Get access

Differences in spatial predictions among species distribution modeling methods vary with species traits and environmental predictors


  • Alexandra D. Syphard,

  • Janet Franklin

A. D. Syphard (, Dept of Biology, San Diego State Univ., San Diego, CA 92182-4614, USA. (Present address of A. D. S.: Conservation Biology Inst., 10423 Sierra Vista Avenue, La Mesa, CA 91941, USA.) – J. Franklin, School of Geography and Urban Planning, Arizona State Univ., Tempe, AZ 85287, USA.


Prediction maps produced by species distribution models (SDMs) influence decision-making in resource management or designation of land in conservation planning. Many studies have compared the prediction accuracy of different SDM modeling methods, but few have quantified the similarity among prediction maps. There has also been little systematic exploration of how the relative importance of different predictor variables varies among model types and affects map similarity. Our objective was to expand the evaluation of SDM performance for 45 plant species in southern California to better understand how map predictions vary among model types, and to explain what factors may affect spatial correspondence, including the selection and relative importance of different environmental variables. Four types of models were tested. Correlation among maps was highest between generalized linear models (GLMs) and generalized additive models (GAMs) and lowest between classification trees and GAMs or GLMs. Correlation between Random Forests (RFs) and GAMs was the same as between RFs and classification trees. Spatial correspondence among maps was influenced the most by model prediction accuracy (AUC) and species prevalence; map correspondence was highest when accuracy was high and prevalence was intermediate (average prevalence for all species was 0.124). Species functional type and the selection of climate variables also influenced map correspondence. For most (but not all) species, climate variables were more important than terrain or soil in predicting their distributions. Environmental variable selection varied according to modeling method, but the largest differences were between RFs and GLMs or GAMs. Although prediction accuracy was equal for GLMs, GAMs, and RFs, the differences in spatial predictions suggest that it may be important to evaluate the results of more than one model to estimate the range of spatial uncertainty before making planning decisions based on map outputs. This may be particularly important if models have low accuracy or if species prevalence is not intermediate.