How biotic interactions may alter future predictions of species distributions: future threats to the persistence of the arctic fox in Fennoscandia
Alopex lagopus, Climate Change, food availability, Lemmus lemmus, predator, prey interaction, Vulpes vulpes
Aim With climate change, reliable predictions of future species geographic distributions are becoming increasingly important for the design of appropriate conservation measures. Species distribution models (SDMs) are widely used to predict geographic range shifts in response to climate change. However, because species communities are likely to change with the climate, accounting for biotic interactions is imperative. A shortcoming of introducing biotic interactions in SDMs is the assumption that biotic interactions remain the same under changing climatic factors, which is disputable. We explore the performance of SDMs while including biotic interactions. Location Fennoscandia, Europe. Methods We investigate the appropriateness of the inclusion of biotic factors (predator pressure and prey availability) in assessing the future distribution of the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) in Fennoscandia by means of SDM, using the algorithm MaxEnt. Results Our results show that the inclusion of biotic interactions enhanced the accuracy of SDMs to predict the current arctic fox distribution, and we argue that the accuracy of future predictions might also be enhanced. While the range of the arctic fox is predicted to have decreased by 43% in 2080 because of temperature- related variables, projected increases in predator pressure and reduced prey availability are predicted to constrain the potential future geographic range of the arctic fox in Fennoscandia 13% more. Main conclusions The results indicate that, provided one has a good knowledge of past changes and a clear understanding of interactions in the community involved, the inclusion of biotic interactions in modelling future geographic ranges of species increases the predictive power of such models. This likely has far-reaching impacts upon the design and implementation of possible conservation and management plans. Control of competing predators and supplementary feeding are suggested as necessary management actions to preserve the Fennoscandian arctic fox population in the face of climate change.