Improving species distribution modelling of freshwater invasive species for management applications.
Freshwater ecosystems rank among the most endangered ecosystems in the world and are under increasing threat from aquatic invasive species (AIS). Understanding the range expansion of AIS is key for mitigating their impacts. Most approaches rely on Species Distribution Models (SDMs) to predict the expansion of AIS, using mainly environmental variables, yet ignore the role of human activities in favouring the introduction and range expansion of AIS. In this study, we use five SDM algorithms (independently and in ensemble) and two accuracy measures (TSS, AUC), combined with a null modelling approach, to assess the predictive performance of the models and to quantify which predictors (environmental and anthropogenic from the native and introduced regions) best explain the distribution of nine freshwater invasive species (including fish, arthropods, molluscs, amphibians and reptiles) in a large island (Great Britain), and which species characteristics affect model performance. Our results show that the distribution of invasive species is difficult to predict by SDMs, even in cases when TSS and AUC model accuracy values are high. Our study strongly advocates the use of null models for testing SDMs performance and the inclusion of information from the native area and a variety of both human-related and environmental predictors for a more accurate modelling of the range expansion of AIS. Otherwise, models that only include climatic variables, or rely only on standard accuracy measures or a single algorithm, might result in mismanagement of AIS.