Microclimate species distribution models estimate lower levels of climate-related habitat loss for salamanders

Samuel F. Stickley, Jennifer M. Fraterrigo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Species distribution models (SDMs) largely rely on free-air temperatures at coarse spatial resolutions to predict habitat suitability, potentially overlooking important microhabitat. Integrating microclimate data into SDMs may improve predictions of organismal responses to climate change and support targeting of conservation assets at biologically relevant scales, especially for small, dispersal-limited species vulnerable to climate-change-induced range loss. We integrated microclimate data that account for the buffering effects of forest vegetation into SDMs at a very high spatial resolution (3 m2) for three plethodontid salamander species in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee). Microclimate SDMs were used to characterize potential changes to future plethodontid habitat, including habitat suitability and habitat spatial patterns. Additionally, we evaluated spatial discrepancies between predictions of habitat suitability developed with microclimate and coarse-resolution, free-air climate data. Microclimate SDMs indicated substantial losses to plethodontid ranges and highly suitable habitat by mid-century, but at much more conservative levels than coarse-resolution models. Coarse-resolution SDMs generally estimated higher mid-century losses to plethodontid habitat compared to microclimate models and consistently undervalued areas containing highly suitable microhabitat. Furthermore, microclimate SDMs revealed potential areas of future gain in highly suitable habitat within current species’ ranges, which may serve as climatic microrefugia. Taken together, this study highlights the need to develop microclimate SDMs that account for vegetation and its biophysical effects on near-surface temperatures. As microclimate datasets become increasingly available across the world, their integration into correlative and mechanistic SDMs will be imperative for accurately estimating organismal responses to climate change and helping environmental managers tasked with spatially prioritizing conservation assets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126333
JournalJournal for Nature Conservation
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Ecological niche modeling
  • Montane ecosystems
  • Plethodontid salamanders
  • Range loss
  • Spatial resolution
  • Suitable habitat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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