The contribution of vegetation and landscape configuration for predicting environmental change impacts on Iberian birds

Although climate is known to be one of the key factors determining animal species distributions amongst others, projections of global change impacts on their distributions often rely on bioclimatic envelope models. Vegetation structure and landscape configuration are also key determinants of distributions, but they are rarely considered in such assessments. We explore the consequences of using simulated vegetation structure and composition as well as its associated landscape configuration in models projecting global change effects on Iberian bird species distributions. Both present-day and future distributions were modelled for 168 bird species using two ensemble forecasting methods: Random Forests (RF) and Boosted Regression Trees (BRT). For each species, several models were created, differing in the predictor variables used (climate, vegetation, and landscape configuration). Discrimination ability of each model in the present-day was then tested with four commonly used evaluation methods (AUC, TSS, specificity and sensitivity). The different sets of predictor variables yielded similar spatial patterns for well-modelled species, but the future projections diverged for poorly-modelled species. Models using all predictor variables were not significantly better than models fitted with climate variables alone for ca. 50% of the cases. Moreover, models fitted with climate data were always better than models fitted with landscape configuration variables, and vegetation variables were found to correlate with bird species distributions in 2640% of the cases with BRT, and in 118% of the cases with RF. We conclude that improvements from including vegetation and its landscape configuration variables in comparison with climate only variables might not always be as great as expected for future projections of Iberian bird species.