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Contribution of disturbance to distribution and abundance in a fire‐adapted system

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Species distribution modeling (SDM) is an essential tool in understanding species ranges, but models haven't incorporated disturbance‐related variables. This is true even for regions where long histories of disturbance have resulted in disturbance‐adapted species. Therefore, the degree to which including disturbance‐related variables in SDMs might improve their performance is unclear. We used hierarchical partitioning to determine how fire patterns contribute to variation in species abundance and presence, examining both the total variation disturbance‐related variables explained, and how much of this variation is independent of soil and climate variables. For 27 Proteaceae species in the fire‐adapted Cape Floristic Region of South Africa , we found that fire variability, frequency, and area burned tended to have explanatory power similar in size to that of soil and climate variables. Importantly, for SDMs of abundance, fire‐related variables explained additional variation not captured by climatic variables, resulting in markedly increased model performance. In systems with high disturbance rates, species are less likely to be in equilibrium with their environment, and SDMs including variables describing disturbance regimes may be better able to capture the probability of a species being present at a site. Finally, the differential effect of fire on species abundance and presence suggests functional differences between these responses, which could hamper attempts to make predictions about species abundances using models of presence.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Toronto, 25 Willcocks Street, Toronto, OT, M5S 3B2, Canada

Publication date: April 1, 2012

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