Can Niche‐Based Distribution Models Outperform Spatial Interpolation?

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Distribution modelling relates sparse data on species occurrence or abundance to environmental information to predict the population of a species at any point in space. Recently, the importance of spatial autocorrelation in distributions has been recognized. Spatial autocorrelation can be categorized as exogenous (stemming from autocorrelation in the underlying variables) or endogenous (stemming from activities of the organism itself, such as dispersal). Typically, one asks whether spatial models explain additional variability (endogenous) in comparison to a fully specified habitat model. We turned this question around and asked: can habitat models explain additional variation when spatial structure is accounted for in a fully specified spatially explicit model? The aim was to find out to what degree habitat models may be inadvertently capturing spatial structure rather than true explanatory mechanisms.



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