Community-level models (CLMs) aim to improve species distribution modeling (SDM) methods by attempting to explicitly incorporate the influences of interacting species. However, the ability of CLMs to appropriately account for biotic interactions is unclear. We applied CLM and SDM methods to predict the distributions of three dominant conifer tree species in the U.S. Rocky Mountains and compared CLM and SDM predictive accuracy as well as the ability of each approach to accurately reproduce species co-occurrence patterns. We specifically evaluated the performance of two statistical algorithms, MARS and CForest, within both CLM and SDM frameworks. Across all species, differences in SDM and CLM predictive accuracy were slight and can be attributed to differences in model structure rather than accounting for the effects of biotic interactions. In addition, CLMs generally over-predicted species cooccurrence, while SDMs under-predicted cooccurrence. Our results demonstrate no real improvement in the ability of CLMs to account for biotic interactions relative to SDMs. We conclude that alternative modeling approaches are needed in order to accurately account for the effects of biotic interactions on species distributions.
Originally published in Plant Ecology, 2016, 217, 533-547. Posted with permission. See it here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11258-016-0598-5