On the importance of predictor choice, modelling technique, and number of pseudo-absences for bioclimatic envelope model performance
Bioclimatic envelope models are commonly used to assess the influence of climate change on species’ distributions and biodiversity patterns. Understanding how methodological choices influence these models is critical for a comprehensive evaluation of the estimated impacts. Here we systematically assess the performance of bioclimatic envelope models in relation to the selection of predictors, modeling technique, and pseudo-absences. We considered (a) five different predictor sets, (b)seven commonly used modeling techniques and an ensemble model, and (c) three sets of pseudo-absences (1,000 pseudo-absences, 10,000 pseudo-absences, and the same as the number of presences). For each combination of predictor set, modeling technique, and pseudo-absence set, we fitted bioclimatic envelope models for 300 species of mammals, amphibians, and freshwater fish, and evaluated the predictive performance of the models using the true skill statistic (TSS), based on a spatially independent test set as well as cross validation. On average across the species, model performance was mostly influenced by the choice of predictor set, followed by the choice of modeling technique. The number of the pseudo-absences did not have a strong effect on the model performance. Based on spatially independent testing, ensemble models based on species-specific nonredundant predictor sets revealed the highest predictive performance. In contrast, the Random Forest technique yielded the highest model performance in cross-validation but had the largest decrease in model performance when transferred to a different spatial context, thus highlighting the need for spatially independent model evaluation. We recommend building bioclimatic envelope models according to an ensemble modeling approach based on a nonredundant set of bioclimatic predictors, preferably selected for each modeled species.
Mirza Čengić, Jasmijn Rost, Daniela Remenska, Jan H. Janse, Mark A. J. Huijbregts, Aafke M. Schipper