Determining range edges: habitat quality, climate or climate extremes?

Seabrook, Leonie, McAlpine, Clive, Rhodes, Jonathan, Baxter, Greg, Bradley, Adrian and Lunney, Daniel (2014) Determining range edges: habitat quality, climate or climate extremes?. Diversity and Distributions, 20 1: 95-106. doi:10.1111/ddi.12152

Author Seabrook, Leonie
McAlpine, Clive
Rhodes, Jonathan
Baxter, Greg
Bradley, Adrian
Lunney, Daniel
Title Determining range edges: habitat quality, climate or climate extremes?
Journal name Diversity and Distributions   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1366-9516
Publication date 2014
Year available 2013
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/ddi.12152
Open Access Status
Volume 20
Issue 1
Start page 95
End page 106
Total pages 12
Place of publication Oxford, United Kingdom
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell
Collection year 2014
Language eng
Formatted abstract
Aim: Climate change is predicted to adversely affect wildlife populations at the trailing edge of their range, with extreme weather events acting as a catalyst for local extinctions and range contractions. We assessed the relative importance of long-term climate averages, short-term drought and habitat in predicting species occupancy and range edge, using the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) as a case study.

Location: Queensland, Australia. Methods: We used mixed effects models to quantify the influence of habitat quality and climate on koala distribution at the trailing edge of their range, at three spatial scales. We used piecewise logistic regression to estimate thresholds in the relationship between the range edge and key environmental variables.

Results: Both climatic and habitat variables explained koala presence. At the site scale, the quality of habitat was important within landscapes that had experienced higher levels of rainfall during a decade-long drought. The spatial pattern of the koala's present-day western range limit reflects closely a breakpoint of ~350 mm in summer rainfall during the drought years, supporting both theoretical predictions and empirical research on the influence of climate extremes on contracting edge populations.

Main conclusions: The distribution of fauna at their range margin in semi-arid regions reflects extreme climate events, such as drought. Within suitable climate conditions, habitat quality is important in determining site occupancy. The identification and protection of habitat refugia, where local microclimates and habitat characteristics can mitigate the impacts of extreme events on fauna species at the contracting edge of the range, may allow species to persist for longer under changing climate conditions. 
Keyword Distribution
Habitat quality
Range contraction
Trailing edge
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

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