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Using maps of continuous variation in species compositional turnover to supplement uniform polygon species range maps

Giovanni Di Virgilio, Shawn W. Laffan
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Species ranges are often represented using polygons, with the attendant issues that they show uniform ranges with abrupt boundaries and can overestimate species ranges. We demonstrate that such uniform species ranges can be supplemented by mapping the gradational variation in species turnover across a landscape. Directional variation in species turnover for 15 skink species (Reptilia: Scincidae) and topographic and climatic turnover in south-eastern Australia were measured using directional moving window analyses, rotated through 360°. The resultant species turnover maps were compared with published polygon range maps for two species within the group (Liopholis whitii and L. inornata). We also assessed how the relationships between species and environmental turnover varied in areas of low or high species turnover. Continuous transitions between distinct areas of low and high species turnover were mapped. Low turnover comprised only 19% of the L. whitii polygon species range within the study area extent. These low turnover areas were more densely populated by L. whitii (67% of observations), whereas areas of medium to high turnover contained substantially fewer observations (25%). Regions with the highest species turnover contained only 6% of observations. L. inornata observations were also clustered in low species turnover areas. Averaged climatic and elevation values were higher in low-turnover areas despite their close adjacency to high-turnover zones. The environmental turnover in low species turnover regions was also lower than in high-turnover areas. Correlations between environmental turnover and low species turnover areas were positive, whereas the opposite relationship applied in high species turnover areas. We identified both abrupt and gradual distributional breaks between separate reptile assemblages; an example of the latter is located in the Hunter Valley in the south-eastern coastal region. This break has been mapped using solid, uniform lines in species ranges and thus implicitly as an abrupt break. Environmental conditions may be more favourable to skinks in low-turnover areas. Since L. whitii and other skink species have very large populations in low-turnover areas, other squamate species may also be more likely to occur in these areas. This has potential implications for conservation prioritisation. The turnover maps used here can supplement the information provided about reptile distributions by the equivalent polygon ranges. This approach can be applied to point occurrence data for any taxonomic group or any similar georeferenced diversity data set.

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