Improving species distribution models using biotic interactions: a case study of parasites, pollinators and plants


T. C. Giannini, Bioscience Inst., Univ. of São Paulo, R. do Matão, 321, BR-05508-900, São Paulo, Brazil. E-mail:


Biotic interactions have been considered as an important factor to be included in species distribution modelling, but little is known about how different types of interaction or different strategies for modelling affect model performance. This study compares different methods for including interspecific interactions in distribution models for bees, their brood parasites, and the plants they pollinate. Host–parasite interactions among bumble bees (genus Bombus: generalist pollinators and brood parasites) and specialist plant–pollinator interactions between Centris bees and Krameria flowers were used as case studies. We used 7 different modelling algorithms available in the BIOMOD R package. For Bombus, the inclusion of interacting species distributions generally increased model predictive accuracy. The improvement was better when the interacting species was included with its raw distribution rather than with its modeled suitability. However, incorporating the distributions of non-interacting species sometimes resulted in similarly increased model accuracy despite their being no significance of any interaction for the distribution. For the Centris-Krameria system the best strategy for modelling biotic interactions was to include the interacting species model-predicted values. However, the results were less consistent than those for Bombus species, and most models including biotic interactions showed no significant improvement over abiotic models. Our results are consistent with previous studies showing that biotic interactions can be important in structuring species distributions at regional scales. However, correlations between species distributions are not necessarily indicative of interactions. Therefore, choosing the correct biotic information, based on biological and ecological knowledge, is critical to improve the accuracy of species distribution models and forecast distribution change.