Addressing potential local adaptation in species distribution models: implications for conservation under climate change

Maria Helena Hällfors, Jishan Liao, Jason Dzurisin, Ralph Grundel, Marko Hyvärinen, Kevin Towle, Grace C. Wu, Jessica J. Hellmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Species distribution models (SDMs) have been criticized for involving assumptions that ignore or categorize many ecologically relevant factors such as dispersal ability and biotic interactions. Another potential source of model error is the assumption that species are ecologically uniform in their climatic tolerances across their range. Typically, SDMs treat a species as a single entity, although populations of many species differ due to local adaptation or other genetic differentiation. Not taking local adaptation into account may lead to incorrect range prediction and therefore misplaced conservation efforts. A constraint is that we often do not know the degree to which populations are locally adapted. Lacking experimental evidence, we still can evaluate niche differentiation within a species’ range to promote better conservation decisions. We explore possible conservation implications of making type I or type II errors in this context. For each of two species, we construct three separate MaxEnt models, one considering the species as a single population and two of disjunct populations. Principal component analyses and response curves indicate different climate characteristics in the current environments of the populations. Model projections into future climates indicate minimal overlap between areas predicted to be climatically suitable by the whole species vs. population-based models. We present a workflow for addressing uncertainty surrounding local adaptation in SDM application and illustrate the value of conducting population-based models to compare with whole-species models. These comparisons might result in more cautious management actions when alternative range outcomes are considered.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1154–1169
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1172 Environmental sciences
  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • biodiversity management
  • conservation effectiveness
  • environmental niche models
  • intraspecific variation
  • Lycaeides melissa samuelis
  • model uncertainty
  • Primula nutans var. finmarchica
  • translocation

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