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Keywords:

  • biogeography;
  • climate change;
  • distributions;
  • environmental warming;
  • Odonata;
  • poleward shift;
  • range margin

Summary

1. Climate-induced range shifts have been detected in a large number of plant and animal taxa and a significant portion of these shifts have been found using records collected over a long period of time. However, the absence of standardized collecting procedures in some historical data sets introduces bias and skew into the data which can result in misleading conclusions. A range of different methods has been employed to account for this heterogeneity, but these methods have yet to be compared using a single data set.

2. We tested the accuracy of published methods for accounting for this heterogeneity. An extensive, heterogeneous data base of sightings of Odonata from the United Kingdom was analysed using four published methods to control for uneven recorder effort. For each method, five different range statistics were calculated. The results were compared and tested against changes in temperature over time to select the most accurate method.

3. Significant variation existed between results derived using different methods to account for uneven recorder effort. Range statistics were also shown to exhibit different biases to varying recorder effort, particularly those most commonly used in published studies.

4. A combination of existing methods is recommended to control for temporal variation in recorder effort. This focuses on random resampling of the more heavily recorded time period. A novel range statistic based on a gamma frequency distribution, which avoids the inherent bias of existing statistics, is suggested as a descriptor for range margins.

5. When the most robust methods to control for uneven recorder effort were combined with the most robust range statistics describing the range shift, British Odonata as a group were shown to be tracking isotherms between 1960 and 2005.

6. Accurate description of past range shifts is essential for correct predictions of future trends and for making decisions concerning conservation priorities. We strongly recommend the use of the best performing methods outlined here to ensure consistency and accuracy in future studies.