I have just published a new essay in the American Journal of Botany entitled “Moving Forward with Species Distributions”. This essay is highlighted as the cover piece (image above and below) and is the premiere of the AJB’s new section “On the Nature of Things”. The article is open-access and can be found HERE. A brief summary is included below.
Anthropogenic climate change poses an unprecedented threat to biodiversity. Many studies employ species distribution models to predict the fate of plant species under climate change. In these models, the observed occurrences of species are used to identify the conditions under which the species can occur and to map locations with these conditions under current and future climates. As Feeley discusses in his essay “Moving Forward with Species Distributions” (pp. 173–175), this approach hinges on two untested assumptions: that the observed occurrences of a species accurately reflect its climatic tolerances (i.e., that the realized niche approximates the fundamental niche) and that there is no local adaption of climatic tolerances. Feeley argues critical examination of these assumptions and urges the scientific community to work towards the common goal of understanding the fundamental climatic niches of both species and populations.
Cover Caption: To predict, and with the hope to mitigate, the effects of climate change on biodiversity, we need a better understanding of the complex abiotic and biotic factors that determine species’ geographic ranges. In other words, we need to know species’ fundamental and realized niches so that we can map where species occur and predict their abilities to tolerate or respond to future climates. This is no easy task — especially in the tropics where most species occur but information on species’ distributions and ecologies is scarce. In Andean montane cloudforests, which are one of the most diverse but understudied ecosystems on Earth, many plant species such as the emblematic Andean Royal Palm (Dictyocaryum lamarckianum) in the foreground and the tree ferns (Cyathea spp.) in the background of the cover image have tightly restricted elevational ranges. K. J. Feeley and the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research Group (ABERG;http://www.andesconservation.org/research/) are working to map the ranges of cloudforest plant species, determine the factors that limit species’ ranges, and predict the impacts of climate change in these highly diverse systems. In this issue’s “On the Nature of Things” feature, “Moving forward with species distributions” on pages 173–175, J. K. Feeley discusses the challenges involved. Photograph by K. J. Feeley.