Combining Satellite Remote Sensing and Climate Data in Species Distribution Models to Improve the Conservation of Iberian White Oaks (Quercus L.)


The Iberian Peninsula hosts a high diversity of oak species, being a hot-spot for the conservation of European White Oaks (Quercus) due to their environmental heterogeneity and its critical role as a phylogeographic refugium. Identifying and ranking the drivers that shape the distribution of White Oaks in Iberia requires that environmental variables operating at distinct scales are considered. These include climate, but also ecosystem functioning attributes (EFAs) related to energy–matter exchanges that characterize land cover types under various environmental settings, at finer scales. Here, we used satellite-based EFAs and climate variables in species distribution models (SDMs) to assess how variables related to ecosystem functioning improve our understanding of current distributions and the identification of suitable areas for White Oak species in Iberia. We developed consensus ensemble SDMs targeting a set of thirteen oaks, including both narrow endemic and widespread taxa. Models combining EFAs and climate variables obtained a higher performance and predictive ability (true-skill statistic (TSS): 0.88, sensitivity: 99.6, specificity: 96.3), in comparison to the climate-only models (TSS: 0.86, sens.: 96.1, spec.: 90.3) and EFA-only models (TSS: 0.73, sens.: 91.2, spec.: 82.1). Overall, narrow endemic species obtained higher predictive performance using combined models (TSS: 0.96, sens.: 99.6, spec.: 96.3) in comparison to widespread oaks (TSS: 0.80, sens.: 92.6, spec.: 87.7). The Iberian White Oaks show a high dependence on precipitation and the inter-quartile range of Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) (i.e., seasonal water availability) which appears to be the most important EFA variable. Spatial projections of climate–EFA combined models contribute to identify the major diversity hotspots for White Oaks in Iberia, holding higher values of cumulative habitat suitability and species richness. We discuss the implications of these findings for guiding the long-term conservation of Iberian White Oaks and provide spatially explicit geospatial information about each oak species (or set of species) relevant for developing biogeographic conservation frameworks.</jats:p

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