Predicting community rank-abundance distributions under current and future climates

16 November 2017

McCarthy, James; Mokany, Karel; Ferrier, Simon; Dwyer, John

Understanding influences of environmental change on biodiversity requires consideration of more than just species richness. Here we present a novel framework for understanding possible changes in species’ abundance structures within communities under climate change. We demonstrate this using comprehensive survey and environmental data from 1,748 woody plant communities across southeast Queensland, Australia, to model rank-abundance distributions (RADs) under current and future climates. Under current conditions, the models predicted RADs consistent with the region’s dominant vegetation types. We demonstrate that under a business as usual climate scenario, total abundance and richness may decline in subtropical rainforest and shrubby heath, and increase in dry sclerophyll forests. Despite these opposing trends, we predicted evenness in the distribution of abundances between species to increase in all vegetation types. By assessing the information rich, multidimensional RAD, we show that climate-driven changes to community abundance structures will likely vary depending on the current composition and environmental context.