Using Holocene fossils to model the future: Distribution of climate suitability for tuatara, the last rhynchocephalian

Scott Jarvie, Trevor H. Worthy, Frédérik Saltré, R. Paul Scofield, Philip J. Seddon, Alison Cree

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Aim: Correlative species distribution models (SDMs) are typically trained using only the contemporary distribution of species; however, recent records might reflect an incomplete description of a species' niche, limiting the reliability of predictions. SDMs linking fossil records have the potential to improve conservation decisions under human-induced climate change. Here, we built SDMs using presence records from contemporary and Holocene records to enable estimations of climatically suitable area under current and future climate scenarios. Location: Aotearoa New Zealand. Taxon: Tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus. Methods: For an evolutionary relict found in Aotearoa New Zealand, the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), we built SDMs using presence records from contemporary and Holocene records to estimate climatically suitable area under current and future climate scenarios. We also use our detailed knowledge of the Holocene distribution and remnant populations to examine niche shifts following the arrival of humans and associated introduction of mammalian predators. To build SDMs, we use presence records from four sources: (a) remnant populations, (b) radiocarbon-dated fossil deposits from the Holocene, (c) other fossil deposits containing tuatara bones of Holocene age and iv) islands from which tuatara are known or highly likely to have become extinct. Results: We found shifts in the niche of tuatara due to niche unfilling. Incorporating locations of Holocene deposits and/or all past locations in SDMs led to larger areas of climatically suitable area being identified compared to SDMs derived from remnant populations only. Using all presence records, under climate change projections for 2090, climatically suitable area increased slightly. However, many areas retain potential as translocation sites (e.g. northern South Island), some areas become unsuitable (e.g. inland Canterbury) and/or involve extrapolation into novel climates (e.g. Northland). Main Conclusion: SDMs incorporating locations of Holocene deposits and/or all past locations identified areas of critical habitat for tuatara under current and future climate scenarios, that would not have been identified using contemporary occurrences only. Our results highlight the need to consider past locations when assessing habitat suitability for conservation translocations, both for tuatara and other relict species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1489-1502
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Volume48
Issue number6
Early online date19 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • ecological niche model
  • Maxent
  • reintroduction
  • species distribution model
  • species redistribution
  • Sphenodon punctatus

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