Forecasting distributions of an aquatic invasive species (Nitellopsis obtusa) under future climate scenarios

Daniel Romero-Alvarez, Luis E. Escobar, Sara Varela, Daniel J. Larkin, Nicholas B.D. Phelps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Starry stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) is an alga that has emerged as an aquatic invasive species of concern in the United States. Where established, starry stonewort can interfere with recreational uses of water bodies and potentially have ecological impacts. Incipient invasion of starry stonewort in Minnesota provides an opportunity to predict future expansion in order to target early detection and strategic management. We used ecological niche models to identify suitable areas for starry stonewort in Minnesota based on global occurrence records and present-day and future climate conditions. We assessed sensitivity of forecasts to different parameters, using four emission scenarios (i.e., RCP 2.6, RCP 4.5, RCP 6, and RCP 8.5) from five future climate models (i.e., CCSM, GISS, IPSL, MIROC, and MRI). From our niche model analyses, we found that (i) occurrences from the entire range, instead of occurrences restricted to the invaded range, provide more informed models; (ii) default settings in Maxent did not provide the best model; (iii) the model calibration area and its background samples impact model performance; (iv) model projections to future climate conditions should be restricted to analogous environments; and (v) forecasts in future climate conditions should include different future climate models and model calibration areas to better capture uncertainty in forecasts. Under present climate, the most suitable areas for starry stonewort are predicted to be found in central and southeastern Minnesota. In the future, suitable areas for starry stonewort are predicted to shift in geographic range under some future climate models and to shrink under others, with most permutations indicating a net decrease of the species suitable range. Our suitability maps can serve to design shortterm plans for surveillance and education, while future climate models suggest a plausible reduction of starry stonewort spread in the long-term if the trends in climate warming remain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0180930
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Romero-Alvarez et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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