Iterative species distribution modeling results in the discovery of novel populations of a rare cold desert perennial

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Israel Temitope Borokini, Kenneth Nussear, Blaise Petitpierre, Thomas E Dilts, Peter J Weisberg


Niche modeling for rare and range-restricted species can generate inaccurate predictions leading to an overestimation of a species geographic distribution. We used an iterative ensemble modeling approach and model-stratified field surveys to improve niche model formulation and better understand the ecological drivers of Ivesia webberi distribution. I. webberi is a U.S. federally threatened herbaceous species, narrowly distributed in the Western Great Basin Desert. Niche models for I. webberi were fitted using 10 replicates each of six modeling algorithms, while geographical projections of habitat suitability were generated using weighted ensembles of models with optimal performance. The resulting model projections were used to guide field surveys for five years, generating additional spatial data, which were added to the existing dataset for subsequent modeling. Model performance across iterations was investigated, while niche differences in the spatial dataset were explored. Model-guided field surveys resulted in the discovery of several new locations of I. webberi and an expansion of the species’ known range by 63 km. Model performance was higher in the earlier but overfitted niche models; overfitting was corrected in the final models, while predicted habitat suitability was reduced by 50%. Findings show that I. webberi niche is associated with biotic, topographic and bioclimatic variables. Further, a partial overlap was observed between environmental conditions of the initial and new locations (Schoener’s D=0.47), which can be decomposed into 93% of niche stability. This indicates that the majority of the newly discovered locations are within the environmental niche of the initial data.



Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Life Sciences


habitat suitability, iterative ensemble modeling, niche overlap, field validation surveys, Ivesia webberi, Great Basin Desert


Published: 2022-11-02 14:54


CC-BY Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International

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Conflict of interest statement:

Data and Code Availability Statement:
Data is not available due to the U.S. Endangered Species Act on the occurrence records of threatened species