Assessing the need and potential of assisted migration using species distribution models

M. H. Hällfors, S. Aikio, S. Fronzek, J. J. Hellmann, T. Ryttäri, R. K. Heikkinen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Assisted migration (AM) has been suggested as a management strategy for aiding species in reaching newly suitable locations as climate changes. Species distribution models (SDMs) can provide important insights for decisions on whether to assist a species in its migration; however, their application includes uncertainties. In this study, we use consensus SDMs to model the future suitable areas for 13 vascular plant species with poor dispersal capacity. Based on the outputs of SDMs under different climate change scenarios and future times, we quantify the predicted changes in suitable area by calculating metrics that describe the need and potential for migration. We find that, by the end of the 21st century, one of the species would benefit from AM under mild climate change, seven under moderate change, and for 12 out of 13 species studied AM appears to be a relevant conservation method under strong climate change. We also test the effect of different modeling attributes on the metrics and find little variation between SDMs constructed using different combinations of modeling methods and variable sets. However, the choice of climate variables had a larger influence on the level of the metrics than did the modeling method. We therefore suggest that the choice of climate variables should receive ample attention when measuring climate change threat using SDMs and that experiments aiming to uncover critical environmental factors for individual species should be extensively conducted. This study illustrates that dispersal assistance may be needed for many species under a wide range of possible future climates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-68
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MHH was supported by the University of Helsinki Research Fund and the LUOVA — Doctoral Programme in Wildlife Biology Research. SA was supported by the Academy of Finland (decision 258144 ) and the Kone Foundation . SF acknowledges support from the Academy of Finland (decision 277276 ). We are grateful to M. Hyvärinen for advice on interpretation of linear mixed models. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modeling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups (listed in Table A2) for producing and making their model output available. For CMIP the U.S. Department of Energy's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provided coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.


  • Assisted colonization
  • Conservation planning
  • Managed relocation
  • Model uncertainty
  • Translocation

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