La Trobe
1157923_Stewart,S_2021.pdf (6.42 MB)

Climate extreme variables generated using monthly time-series data improve predicted distributions of plant species

Download (6.42 MB)
journal contribution
posted on 2021-07-13, 04:25 authored by SB Stewart, J Elith, M Fedrigo, S Kasel, SH Roxburgh, LT Bennett, M Chick, T Fairman, Steven LeonardSteven Leonard, Michele Kohout, JK Cripps, L Durkin, CR Nitschke
Extreme weather can have significant impacts on plant species demography; however, most studies have focused on responses to a single or small number of extreme events. Long-term patterns in climate extremes, and how they have shaped contemporary distributions, have rarely been considered or tested. BIOCLIM variables that are commonly used in correlative species distribution modelling studies cannot be used to quantify climate extremes, as they are generated using long-term averages and therefore do not describe year-to-year, temporal variability. We evaluated the response of 37 plant species to base climate (long-term means, equivalent to BIOCLIM variables), variability (standard deviations) and extremes of varying return intervals (defined using quantiles) based on historical observations. These variables were generated using fine-grain (approx. 250 m), time-series temperature and precipitation data for the hottest, coldest and driest months over 39 years. Extremes provided significant additive improvements in model performance compared to base climate alone and were more consistent than variability across all species. Models that included extremes frequently showed notably different mapped predictions relative to those using base climate alone, despite often small differences in statistical performance as measured as a summary across sites. These differences in spatial patterns were most pronounced at the predicted range margins, and reflect the influence of coastal proximity, continentality, topography and orographic barriers on climate extremes. Species occupying hotter and drier locations that are exposed to severe maximum temperature extremes were associated with better predictive performance when modelled using extremes. Understanding how plant species have historically responded to climate extremes may provide valuable insights into our understanding of contemporary distributions and help to make more accurate predictions under a changing climate.


The research was supported by the Melbourne Research Scholarship (Univ. of Melbourne) with additional funding provided by the State of Victoria Dept of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) though the Integrated Forest Ecosystem Research (iFER) program. JE was supported by Australian Research Council grant DP 160101003. We thank those from the Arthur Rylah Inst. for Environmental Research (Matthew Bruce, Lindy Lumsden, Josephine MacHunter, Annette Muir and Jenny Nelson), VicForests (Elizabeth Pryde), Univ. of Melbourne (Alan York, Julian Di Stefano and Helen Vickers), Univ. of Tasmania (Sue Baker), who contributed plot data critical to the analysis. We also thank Chris Ware and Karel Mokany from the CSIRO and the anonymous reviewers for reviewing this manuscript and providing constructive feedback.


Publication Date









(p. 626-639)





Rights Statement

The Author reserves all moral rights over the deposited text and must be credited if any re-use occurs. Documents deposited in OPAL are the Open Access versions of outputs published elsewhere. Changes resulting from the publishing process may therefore not be reflected in this document. The final published version may be obtained via the publisher’s DOI. Please note that additional copyright and access restrictions may apply to the published version.