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Incorporating microclimate into species distribution models

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Species distribution models (SDMs) have rapidly evolved into one of the most widely used tools to answer a broad range of ecological questions, from the effects of climate change to challenges for species management. Current SDMs and their predictions under anthropogenic climate change are, however, often based on free‐air or synoptic temperature conditions with a coarse resolution, and thus fail to capture apparent temperature (cf. microclimate) experienced by living organisms within their habitats. Yet microclimate operates as soon as a habitat can be characterized by a vertical component (e.g. forests, mountains, or cities) or by horizontal variation in surface cover. The mismatch between how we usually express climate (cf. coarse‐grained free‐air conditions) and the apparent microclimatic conditions that living organisms experience has only recently been acknowledged in SDMs, yet several studies have already made considerable progress in tackling this problem from different angles. In this review, we summarize the currently available methods to obtain meaningful microclimatic data for use in distribution modelling. We discuss the issue of extent and resolution, and propose an integrated framework using a selection of appropriately‐placed sensors in combination with both the detailed measurements of the habitat 3D structure, for example derived from digital elevation models or airborne laser scanning, and the long‐term records of free‐air conditions from weather stations. As such, we can obtain microclimatic data with a relevant spatiotemporal resolution and extent to dynamically model current and future species distributions.
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Keywords: microclimate; remote sensing; species distribution modelling

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2019

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