The importance of biologically relevant microclimates in species distribution models and habitat suitability assessments
No viewer for file format "application/zip"
||Varner, Johanna; Dearing, Denise M.
||The importance of biologically relevant microclimates in species distribution models and habitat suitability assessments
||Predicting habitat suitability under climate change is vital to conserving biodiversity. However, current species distribution models rely on coarse scale climate data, whereas fine scale microclimate data may be necessary to assess habitat suitability and generate predictive models. Here, we evaluate disparities between temperature data at the coarse scale from weather stations versus fine-scale data measured in microhabitats relevant to a climate-sensitive mammal, the American pika (Ochotona princeps). We collected temperature data in occupied habitats predicted to be suitable (high elevation) and unsuitable (low elevation) by the bioclimatic envelope approach. At low elevations, talus surface and interstitial microclimates drastically differed from nearby weather stations and ambient temperatures measured on-site. Interstitial talus temperatures were decoupled from high ambient temperatures, resulting in disparities up to 30°C between these two measurements. Microhabitat temperatures were also highly heterogeneous, such that temperature measurements within the same patch of talus were not more correlated than measurements at distant patches. Experimental manipulations revealed that vegetation cover can cool the talus surface by 10°C during the summer, which may contribute to this spatial heterogeneity. Finally, low elevation microclimates were milder and less variable than typical alpine habitat, suggesting that, counter to species distribution model predictions, these seemingly unsuitable habitats may actually be better refugia under climate change. These results highlight the importance of fine-scale microhabitat data in habitat assessments and underscore the notion that some critical refugia may be counterintuitive.
||Species; distribution; models, habitat, suitability
||Copyright, Varner at the University of Utah