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Data from: Community science validates climate suitability projections from ecological niche modeling

Cite this dataset

Saunders, Sarah et al. (2020). Data from: Community science validates climate suitability projections from ecological niche modeling [Dataset]. Dryad.


Climate change poses an intensifying threat to many bird species, and projections of future climate suitability provide insight into how species may shift their distributions in response. Climate suitability is characterized using ecological niche models (ENMs), which correlate species occurrence data with current environmental covariates and project future distributions using the modeled relationships together with climate predictions. Despite their widespread adoption, ENMs rely on several assumptions that are rarely validated in situ and can be highly sensitive to modeling decisions, precluding their reliability in conservation decision-making. Using data from a novel, large-scale community science program, we developed dynamic occupancy models to validate near-term climate suitability projections for bluebirds and nuthatches in summer and winter. We estimated occupancy, colonization, and extinction dynamics across species’ ranges in the United States in relation to projected climate suitability in the 2020s, and used a Gibbs variable selection approach to quantify evidence of species-climate relationships. We also included a Bird Conservation Region strata-level random effect to examine among-strata variation in occupancy that may be attributable to land-use and ecoregional differences. Across species and seasons, we found strong evidence that initial occupancy and colonization were positively related to 2020 climate suitability, illustrating an independent validation of projections from ENMs across a large geographic area. Random strata effects revealed that occupancy probabilities were generally higher than average in core areas and lower than average in peripheral areas of species’ ranges, and served as a first step in identifying spatial patterns of occupancy from these community science data. Our findings lend much-needed support to the use of ENM projections for addressing questions about potential climate-induced changes in species’ occupancy dynamics. More broadly, our work highlights the value of community scientist observations for ground-truthing projections from statistical models and for refining our understanding of the processes shaping species’ distributions under a changing climate.


Observations of bluebirds and nuthatches were collected as part of the National Audubon Society's Climate Watch program ( Volunteers conducted point counts at 12 points within a 10 x 10 km 'square' and submitted observations as separate checklists per point. The dataset provided here represents the collated checklists for each species (three bluebird species, three nuthatch species) in each season (summer, winter) during 2016 - 2018 (only bluebird data available in 2016). Additional variables used in analyses are also included in each species-season dataset.

Usage notes

Example model code used to run analyses is provided in the supplementary material of the published article in Ecological Applications.