Effects of grain size and niche breadth on species distribution modeling

Published online: 
26 December 2017

Connor Thomas, Hull Vanessa, Viña Andrés, Shortridge Ashton, Tang Ying, Zhang Jindong, Wang Fang, Liu Jianguo

Scale is a vital component to consider in ecological research, and spatial resolution or grain size is one of its key facets. Species distribution models (SDMs) are prime examples of ecological research in which grain size is an important component. Despite this, SDMs rarely explicitly examine the effects of varying the grain size of the predictors for species with different niche breadths. To investigate the effect of grain size and niche breadth on SDMs, we simulated four virtual species with different grain sizes/niche breadths using three environmental predictors (elevation, aspect, and percent forest) across two real landscapes of differing heterogeneity in predictor values. We aggregated these predictors to seven different grain sizes and modeled the distribution of each of our simulated species using MaxEnt and GLM techniques at each grain size. We examined model accuracy using the AUC statistic, Pearson's correlations of predicted suitability with the true suitability, and the binary area of presence determined from suitability above the maximum true skill statistic (TSS) threshold. Habitat specialists were more accurately modeled than generalist species, and the models constructed at the grain size from which a species was derived generally performed the best. The accuracy of models in the homogenous landscape deteriorated with increasing grain size to a greater degree than models in the heterogenous landscape. Variable effects on the model varied with grain size, with elevation increasing in importance as grain size increased while aspect lost importance. The area of predicted presence was drastically affected by grain size, with larger grain sizes over predicting this value by up to a factor of 14. Our results have implications for species distribution modeling and conservation planning, and we suggest more studies include analysis of grain size as part of their protocol.

Doi
10.1111/ecog.03416