The importance of land-use legacies for modeling present-day species distributions

Xin Chen, Laura Leites

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Context: Land-use legacies play an important role in shaping contemporary species distributions. However, land-use legacies are rarely considered in species distribution models (SDMs) that aim to model present-day species distributions across the landscape, even though they can lead to a species absence in suitable areas. SDMs that do not account for land-use legacies will likely result in biased predictions of species distributions. Objective: We examine the importance of land-use legacies for modeling present-day distributions of tree species at a regional scale, assessing how the addition of land-use legacy variables improves predictive power of SDMs. Methods: We generated land-use legacy variables using raster layers of reconstructed historical agricultural land use and 3310 inventory plots. SDMs were developed for six forest tree species based on climatic, edaphic, and topographic variables, and with (SDMLU) and without (SDMBase) land-use legacy variables. We compared the predictive power between SDMLU and SDMBase models and then quantified the local importance of land-use legacy variables relative to other abiotic variables. Results: Our results show that the importance of land-use legacy variables for present-day species distributions and the improvement on the predictive power of SDMs is species-specific. The inclusion of land-use legacy variables improved SDMs primarily by lowering errors of commission and increasing the overall accuracy of prediction. Conclusion: The influence of land-use legacies on SDMs suggests that, for some tree species, incorporating land-use legacies can accurately identify suitable areas that are not occupied by the species due to land-use legacies, and advance our understanding of their present-day distributions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2759-2775
Number of pages17
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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