Professor University of Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada
Many plant species are predicted to migrate poleward in response to climate change. Species distribution models (SDMs) have been widely used to quantify future suitable habitats and potential migration distances, but SDM studies typically neglect soil properties, despite their importance to plant fitness. In this study, we built two SDMs – one with only climate predictors (SDMclimate) and one with both climate and soil predictors (SDMsc) – for each of 1870 plant species in Eastern North America (ENA), in order to investigate the relative importance of soil properties in determining plant distributions and potential migration under climate change.
While climate variables were the most important predictors (mean relative importance = 0.573), soil properties also had as substantial influence on plant distributions at a continental scale (mean relative importance = 0.369). Furthermore, SDMsc predicted much less change in latitudinal distributions under climate change than SDMclimate, suggesting that high-latitude soils are likely to impede ongoing plant migration. Our findings highlight the necessity of incorporating soil properties into models for plant distributions and migration.