Questions: Can probability of occurrence and dominance be accurately estimated for six important conifer species with varying range sizes? Does range size impact the accuracy of species probability of occurrence models? Is species predicted probability of occurrence significantly related to observed dominance?
Location: Pacific Northwest region, North America (60°–40°N, 140°–110°W).
Methods: This study develops near range-wide predictive distribution maps for six important conifer species (Pseudotsuga menziesii, Tsuga heterophylla, Pinus contorta, Thuja plicata, Larix occidentalis, and Picea glauca) using forest inventory data collected across the United States and Canada. Species model accuracies are compared with range size using a rank scoring system. A suite of climate and topographic predictor variables are used to investigate environmental constraints that limit species range and quantify relationships between species predicted probability of occurrence and dominance at both plot and landscape scales.
Results: Evaluation statistics revealed significant and accurate probability of occurrence models were developed for all six species. Based on ranked evaluation statistics, Tsuga heterophylla had highest overall model accuracy (statistic rank score=5) and Pinus contorta the lowest (statistic rank score=17). Across species, ranked evaluation statistics also revealed a pattern of decreasing model accuracy with increasing range size. At plot level, correlations between dominance and probability of occurrence were weakly positive for all species with only half of the species having statistically significant correlations. Pseudotsuga menziesii had the highest correlation (r=0.36, P<0.001) and Thuja plicata lowest (r=0.038, P=0.799). At the 50-km scale, correlations between dominance and probability of occurrence improved for all species except Pinus contorta. Pseudotsuga menziesii displayed the highest correlation (r=0.68, P<0.001) and Thuja plicata the lowest (r=0.07, P>0.709).
Conclusions: Species probability of occurrence model accuracy decreased with increasing range size. The strength and significance of correlations between probability of occurrence and dominance varied considerably by species and across spatial scales. Apart from Pseudotsuga menziesii and L. occidentalis, the results suggest that probability of occurrence is not a consistently reliable surrogate for species dominance in Pacific Northwest forests. We demonstrate how the degree of correlation between species occurrence and dominance can be used as an indicator of how well predictions of occurrence characterize the optimal niche of a species.