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Species distribution models in climate change scenarios are still not useful for informing policy planning: an uncertainty assessment using fuzzy logic

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We compared the effect of general circulation models and greenhouse gas emission scenarios on the uncertainty associated with models predicting changes in areas favourable to animal species. Given that mountain species are particularly at risk due to climate warming, we selected one amphibian (Baetic midwife toad), one reptile (Lataste's viper), one bird (Bonelli's eagle), and one mammal (Iberian wild goat) present in Spanish mountains to model their distributional response to climate change during this century. Climate forecasts for the whole century were provided by the Agencia Estatal de Meteorología (AEMET; National Meteorological Agency) of Spain, which adapted the general circulation models CGCM2 and ECHAM4 and produced expected temperature and precipitation values for Spain according to the A2 and B2 emission scenarios. We constructed separate models of the species response to spatial, topographic, human, and climate variables using current values of the corresponding variables. We predicted future areas favourable to the species by replacing the current climate values with those expected according to each climate change scenario, while keeping spatial, topographic and human variables constant. Fuzzy logic was used to compute the coincidence between predictions for different emission scenarios in the same global circulation model, and the consistency between predictions for the same emission scenario applying different general circulation models. In general, coincidences were higher than consistencies and, thus, discrepancies between predictions were more attributable to uncertainty in global circulation models, i.e. our insufficient knowledge concerning the effect of the oceans and atmosphere on climate, than to the putative effect of different emission scenarios on future climates. Our conclusion is that species distribution models in climate warming scenarios are still not useful for informing emission policy planning, although they have great potential as tools once consistencies become higher than coincidences.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2010

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