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Final Published Version

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There is ample evidence that biotic factors, such as biotic interactions and dispersal capacity, can affect species distributions and influence species’ responses to climate change. However, little is known about how these factors affect predictions from species distribution models (SDMs) with respect to spatial grain and extent of the models.


Understanding how spatial scale influences the effects of biological processes in SDMs is important because SDMs are one of the primary tools used by conservation biologists to assess biodiversity impacts of climate change.

Data sources and study eligibility criteria

We systematically reviewed SDM studies published from 2003–2015 using ISI Web of Science searches to: (1) determine the current state and key knowledge gaps of SDMs that incorporate biotic interactions and dispersal; and (2) understand how choice of spatial scale may alter the influence of biological processes on SDM predictions.

Synthesis methods and limitations

We used linear mixed effects models to examine how predictions from SDMs changed in response to the effects of spatial scale, dispersal, and biotic interactions.


There were important biases in studies including an emphasis on terrestrial ecosystems in northern latitudes and little representation of aquatic ecosystems. Our results suggest that neither spatial extent nor grain influence projected climate-induced changes in species ranges when SDMs include dispersal or biotic interactions.


We identified several knowledge gaps and suggest that SDM studies forecasting the effects of climate change should: 1) address broader ranges of taxa and locations; and 1) report the grain size, extent, and results with and without biological complexity. The spatial scale of analysis in SDMs did not affect estimates of projected range shifts with dispersal and biotic interactions. However, the lack of reporting on results with and without biological complexity precluded many studies from our analysis.


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Biology Commons