Biodiversity Science ›› 2014, Vol. 22 ›› Issue (2): 223-230.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2014.08178

• Orginal Article • Previous Article     Next Article

Improving ecological niche model transferability to predict the potential distribution of invasive exotic species

Gengping Zhu1, *(), Qiang Liu1, Yubao Gao2, *()   

  1. 1 College of Life Sciences, Tianjin Normal University, Tianjin 300387
    2 College of Life Sciences, Nankai University, Tianjin 300071
  • Received:2013-08-03 Accepted:2013-10-15 Online:2014-04-03
  • Zhu Gengping,Gao Yubao E-mail:gengpingzhu@hotmail.com;ybgao@nankai.edu.cn

Ecological niche modeling (ENM) seeks to characterize the ecological requirements of species using their occurrence in association with environmental variables. The classic applications of ENM to biological invasions involve the calibration of niche modeling in the native range and the subsequent transfer of the calibrated models to other regions to predict areas of potential invasion. However, low niche model transferability has been reported in certain cases, resulting in artifactual conclusions in some studies (e.g., niche shift during a species’ invasion). Improving niche model transferability would allow precise predictions of the invasion potential of species, providing valuable information for invasion risk assessment. In this review, we address model input data (i.e., occurrence records and environmental variables), using the invasive Halyomorpha halys and Spartina alterniflora, to explore protocols for improving niche model transferability. We conclude that the knowledge of the biology, population equilibrium state, geographic distribution, and biogeographic history of the invasive species is crucial prior to niche modeling. In niche model calibration, the sufficient records should not only cover the geographic extent and the ecological dimension of the species’ distribution but also reduce the sample bias and the effects of spatial autocorrelation. Selecting environmental variables should involve considerations of their biological importance in restricting the species’ distribution, the differences in occupied ecological space among geographic populations, and the dimensionality of the environmental space. Delimiting the geographic background for niche modeling should involve considerations of the species’ distributional range and population equilibrium state. We believe that, based on niche conservatism, niche model transferability can be guaranteed if niche models are built based on a reasonable approach. Caution is warranted in the case of interpretations of low niche model transferability in association with niche differentiation.

Key words: biological invasion, ecological niche modeling, transferability, spatial correlation, niche conservatism

Fig. 1

Exhibition of ecological niche modeling and species distribution modeling. Ecological niche model refers to niche model calibrated in native area (① and ②) and transferred into the introduced area (③), whereas species distribution model refers to niche model calibration without transferring across space (① and ②, dashed area). A, Native suitable area but not colonized due to dispersal limitation; B, Native suitable area but not colonized due to biotic interaction; C, Suitable area in introduced area; D, Realized niche; E, Fundamental niche."

Fig. 2

Effect of environmental space dimensionality on native model transferability (A case study of Halyomorpha halys, adopted from Zhu et al., 2012a). Niche models were constructed based on native range of H. halys and transferred into the US. White dots were used to fit niche model whereas black dots used to test model. Dark color represents high suitability, and light indicates low suitability. Left panel using 10 variables (A), and right panel using six variables (B). When using less environmental variables, niche model transferability was greatly improved."

Fig. 3

Effect of geographic background space on the transferability of niche model: a case study of Spartina alterniflora (adopted from Zhu et al., 2013a). Left panel exhibited the squared (A) and coastal (B) areas used in native niche model calibration. Niche model based on the coastal areas showed high transferability in capturing the introduced records (right panel)."

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