Predicting range shifts of African apes under global change scenarios

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Modelling African great ape distribution has until now focused on current or past conditions, whilst future scenarios remain scarcely explored. Using an ensemble forecasting approach, we predicted changes in taxon-specific distribution under future scenarios of climate, land-use and human population changes. We compiled occurrence data on African ape populations from the IUCN A.P.E.S. database and extracted relevant human-, climate- and habitat-related predictors representing current and future (2050) conditions to predict taxon-specific distribution under a best- and a worst-case scenario, using ensemble forecasting. Given the large effect on model predictions, we further tested algorithm sensitivity by considering default and non-default modelling options. The latter included interactions between predictors and polynomial terms in correlative algorithms.The future distributions of gorilla and bonobo populations are likely to be directly determined by climate-related variables. In contrast, future chimpanzee distribution is influenced mostly by anthropogenic variables. Both our modelling approaches produced similar model accuracy, although a slight difference in the magnitude of range change was found for Gorilla beringei beringei, G. gorilla diehli, and Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii. On average, a decline of 50% of the geographic range (non-default; or 55% default) is expected under the best scenario if no dispersal occurs (57% non-default or 58% default in worst scenario). However, new areas of suitable habitat are predicted to become available for most taxa if dispersal occurs (81% or 103% best, 93% or 91% worst, non-default and default, respectively), except for G. b. beringei.Despite the uncertainty in predicting the precise proportion of suitable habitat by 2050, both modelling approaches predict large range losses for all African apes. Thus, conservation planners urgently need to integrate land-use planning and simultaneously support conservation and climate change mitigation measures at all decision-making levels both in range countries and abroad.

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Erin G. Wessling
Erin G. Wessling
Postdoctoral Fellow

My research interests include distributed robotics, mobile computing and programmable matter.