Non-equilibrium in plant distribution models – only an issue for introduced or dispersal limited species?

D. R. Menuz
K. M. Kettenring
C. P. Hawkins, Utah State University


Species distribution models rely on the assumption that species' distributions are at equilibrium with environmental conditions within a region – i.e. they occur in all suitable habitats. If this assumption holds, species occurrence should be predictable from measures of the environment. Introduced species may be poor candidates for distribution models due to their presumed lack of equilibrium within the landscapes they occupy, although predicting their potential distributions is often of critical importance to natural resource managers. We determined if the accuracy of species distribution models differed between 17 native and 17 introduced riparian plant species in the western United States. We also assessed if model accuracy was associated with both environmental and biological factors that can influence dispersal. We used Random Forests to model species distributions and linear regression to determine if model accuracy was associated with dispersal-related traits. Model accuracy for introduced species was higher than that for native species. Dispersal-related traits did not affect model accuracy or improvement, though two other traits, family affiliation and rarity on the landscape, did have an effect. Distance-based measures of dispersal potential improved model fit equally for both native and introduced species and for species with a variety of dispersal traits, suggesting that the importance of regional propagule pressure is relatively constant across species with different dispersal opportunities. Several lines of future questioning are suggested by our results, including why introduced species may in some cases produce more accurate distribution models than native species and how species dispersal traits relate to distribution model accuracy at different spatial scales