Is the climate right for pleistocene rewilding? Using species distribution models to extrapolate climatic suitability for mammals across continents.
- Author(s): Richmond, Orien MW;
- McEntee, Jay P;
- Hijmans, Robert J;
- Brashares, Justin S
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttp://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0012899
Species distribution models (SDMs) are increasingly used for extrapolation, or predicting suitable regions for species under new geographic or temporal scenarios. However, SDM predictions may be prone to errors if species are not at equilibrium with climatic conditions in the current range and if training samples are not representative. Here the controversial "Pleistocene rewilding" proposal was used as a novel example to address some of the challenges of extrapolating modeled species-climate relationships outside of current ranges. Climatic suitability for three proposed proxy species (Asian elephant, African cheetah and African lion) was extrapolated to the American southwest and Great Plains using Maxent, a machine-learning species distribution model. Similar models were fit for Oryx gazella, a species native to Africa that has naturalized in North America, to test model predictions. To overcome biases introduced by contracted modern ranges and limited occurrence data, random pseudo-presence points generated from modern and historical ranges were used for model training. For all species except the oryx, models of climatic suitability fit to training data from historical ranges produced larger areas of predicted suitability in North America than models fit to training data from modern ranges. Four naturalized oryx populations in the American southwest were correctly predicted with a generous model threshold, but none of these locations were predicted with a more stringent threshold. In general, the northern Great Plains had low climatic suitability for all focal species and scenarios considered, while portions of the southern Great Plains and American southwest had low to intermediate suitability for some species in some scenarios. The results suggest that the use of historical, in addition to modern, range information and randomly sampled pseudo-presence points may improve model accuracy. This has implications for modeling range shifts of organisms in response to climate change.