Dealing with area‐to‐point spatial misalignment in species distribution models

Species distribution models (SDMs) are extensively used to estimate species–environment relationships (SERs) and predict species distribution across space and time. For this purpose, it is key to choose relevant spatial grains for predictor and response variables at the onset of the modelling process. However, environmental variables are often derived from large‐scale climate models at a grain that can be coarser than the one of the response variable. Such area‐to‐point spatial misalignment can bias estimates of SER and jeopardise the robustness of predictions. We used a virtual species approach, running simulations across different levels of area‐to‐point spatial misalignment to seek statistical solutions to this problem. We specifically compared accuracy of SER estimates and predictive performances, assessed across different degrees of spatial heterogeneity in environmental conditions, of three SDMs: a GLM, a spatial GLM and a Berkson error model (BEM) that accounts for fine‐grain environmental heterogeneity within coarse‐grain cells. Only the BEM accurately estimates SER from relatively coarse‐grain environmental data (up to 50 times coarser than the response grain), while the two GLMs provide flattened SER. However, all three models perform poorly when predicting from coarse‐grain data, particularly in environments that are more heterogeneous than the training conditions. Conversely, decreasing environmental heterogeneity relative to the training dataset reduces the predictive biases. Because predictions are made from covariate‐grain data, the BEM displays lower predictive performance than the two GLMs. Thus, standard model selection methods would fail to select the model that best estimates SERs (here, the BEM), which could lead to false interpretations about the environmental drivers of species distributions. Overall, we conclude that the BEM, because it can robustly estimate SER at the response grain, holds great promise to overcome area‐to‐point misalignment.

Keyword(s)

grain size, spatial misalignment, spatial resolution, spatial scale, species distribution modelling, species–environment relationships (SERs)

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Mourguiart Bastien, Chevalier Mathieu, Marzloff Martin, Caill‐milly Nathalie, Mengersen Kerrie, Liquet Benoit (2024). Dealing with area‐to‐point spatial misalignment in species distribution models. Ecography. INPRESS. https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.07104, https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00883/99500/

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