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Current Plant Distributions Fail to Represent their Potential Ranges

Paper Reviewed
Bocsi, T., Allen, J.M., Bellemare, J., Kartesz, J., Nishino, M. and Bradley, B.A. 2016. Plants' native distributions do not reflect climatic tolerance. Diversity and Distributions 22: 615-624.

In providing some background for their study, Bocsi et al. (2016) write that "species distribution modelling assumes that plant distributions represent a reasonable approximation of their environmental tolerance." And, therefore, they note that "for ecological forecasting, projections of habitat loss due to climate change assume that many species will be unable to tolerate climate conditions outside of those found within their current distributional ranges." But is this really the case?

In an attempt to find out, the six U.S. scientists "compared the climatic conditions between occurrences in U.S. native vs. U.S. non-native ranges using 144 non-invasive plant species," quantifying "differences in January minimum temperature, July maximum temperature and annual precipitation as indicators of climatic tolerance," while also comparing "modelled potential distributions throughout the U.S. based on native and total ranges to test how expanded climatic tolerance translates into predicted geographical range."

This work revealed, as they report, that "plants' native ranges strongly underestimate climatic tolerance, leading species distribution models to under-predict potential range," and while further noting that "the climatic tolerance of species with narrow native ranges appears most prone to underestimation." And in light of these findings, they conclude that "many plants will be able to persist in situ with climate change for far longer than projected by species distribution models."

Posted 4 October 2016