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Comparing climatic suitability and niche distances to explain populations responses to extreme climatic events

Cite this dataset

Pérez-Navarro, María Ángeles (2022). Comparing climatic suitability and niche distances to explain populations responses to extreme climatic events [Dataset]. Dryad.


Habitat suitability calculated from Species Distribution Models (SDMs) has been used to assess population performance, but empirical studies have provided weak or inconclusive support to this approach. Novel approaches measuring population distances to niche centroid and margin in environmental space have been recently proposed to explain population performance, particularly when populations experience exceptional environmental conditions that may place them outside of the species niche. Here, we use data of co-occurring species’ decay, gathered after an extreme drought event occurring in the SE of the Iberian Peninsula which highly affected rich semiarid shrubland communities, to compare the relationship between population decay (mortality and remaining green canopy) and (1) distances between populations’ location and species niche margin and centroid in the environmental space, and (2) climatic suitability estimated from frequently used SDMs (here MaxEnt) considering both the extreme climatic episode and the average reference climatic period before this. We found that both SDMs-derived suitability and distances to species niche properly predict populations performance when considering the reference climatic period; but climatic suitability failed to predict performance considering the extreme climate period. In addition, while distance to niche margins accurately predict both mortality and remaining green canopy responses, centroid distances failed to explain mortality, suggesting that indexes containing information about the position to niche margin (inside or outside) are better to predict binary responses. We conclude that the location of populations in the environmental space is consistent with performance responses to extreme drought. Niche distances appear to be a more efficient approach than the use of climate suitability indices derived from more frequently used SDMs to explain population performance when dealing with environmental conditions that are located outside the species environmental niche. The use of this alternative metrics may be particularly useful when designing conservation measures to mitigate impacts of shifting environmental conditions.


Ministerio de Educación y Formación Profesional, Award: (FPU14/03519)

Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, Award: BIOCLIM project (CGL2015-67419-R)

Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, Award: RESIBIO project (PID2020-115264RB-I00)

Agency for Administration of University and Research, Award: 2017 SGR 1001

Swiss European Mobility Program