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  1. Abstract

    Species distribution models (SDMs) that rely on regional‐scale environmental variables will play a key role in forecasting species occurrence in the face of climate change. However, in the Anthropocene, a number of local‐scale anthropogenic variables, including wildfire history, land‐use change, invasive species, and ecological restoration practices can override regional‐scale variables to drive patterns of species distribution. Incorporating these human‐induced factors into SDMs remains a major research challenge, in part because spatial variability in these factors occurs at fine scales, rendering prediction over regional extents problematic. Here, we used big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentataNutt.) as a model species to explore whether including human‐induced factors improves the fit of the SDM. We applied a Bayesian hurdle spatial approach using 21,753 data points of field‐sampled vegetation obtained from the LANDFIRE program to model sagebrush occurrence and cover by incorporating fire history metrics and restoration treatments from 1980 to 2015 throughout the Great Basin of North America. Models including fire attributes and restoration treatments performed better than those including only climate and topographic variables. Number of fires and fire occurrence had the strongest relative effects on big sagebrush occurrence and cover, respectively. The models predicted that the probability of big sagebrush occurrence decreases by 1.2% (95% CI: −6.9%, 0.6%) when one fire occurs and cover decreases by 44.7% (95% CI: −47.9%, −41.3%) if at least one fire occurred over the 36 year period of record. Restoration practices increased the probability of big sagebrush occurrence but had minimal effect on cover. Our results demonstrate the potential value of including disturbance and land management along with climate in models to predict species distributions. As an increasing number of datasets representing land‐use history become available, we anticipate that our modeling framework will have broad relevance across a range of biomes and species.

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  2. Abstract

    Future climates are projected to be highly novel relative to recent climates. Climate novelty challenges models that correlate ecological patterns to climate variables and then use these relationships to forecast ecological responses to future climate change. Here, we quantify the magnitude and ecological significance of future climate novelty by comparing it to novel climates over the past 21,000 years in North America. We then use relationships between model performance and climate novelty derived from the fossil pollen record from eastern North America to estimate the expected decrease in predictive skill of ecological forecasting models as future climate novelty increases. We show that, in the high emissions scenario (RCP 8.5) and by late 21st century, future climate novelty is similar to or higher than peak levels of climate novelty over the last 21,000 years. The accuracy of ecological forecasting models is projected to decline steadily over the coming decades in response to increasing climate novelty, although models that incorporate co‐occurrences among species may retain somewhat higher predictive skill. In addition to quantifying future climate novelty in the context of late Quaternary climate change, this work underscores the challenges of making reliable forecasts to an increasingly novel future, while highlighting the need to assess potential avenues for improvement, such as increased reliance on geological analogs for future novel climates and improving existing models by pooling data through time and incorporating assemblage‐level information.

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