Macroecological models for predicting species distributions usually only include abiotic environmental conditions as explanatory variables, despite knowledge from community ecology that all species are linked to other species through biotic interactions. This disconnect is largely due to the different spatial scales considered by the two sub-disciplines: macroecologists study patterns at large extents and coarse resolutions, while community ecologists focus on small extents and fine resolutions. A general framework for including biotic interactions in macroecological models would help bridge this divide, as it would allow for rigorous testing of the role that biotic interactions play in determining species ranges. Here, we present an approach that combines species distribution models with Bayesian networks, which enables the direct and indirect effects of biotic interactions to be modelled as propagating conditional dependencies among species’ presences. We show that including biotic interactions in distribution models for species from a California grassland community results in better range predictions across the western USA. This new approach will be important for improving estimates of species distributions and their dynamics under environmental change.
Read the article in Ecology Letters.