Comparing, evaluating and combining statistical species distribution models and CLIMEX to forecast the distributions of emerging crop pests.
BACKGROUND: Forecasting the spread of emerging pests is widely requested by pest management agencies in order to prioritise and target efforts. Two widely used approaches are statistical Species Distribution Models (SDMs) and CLIMEX, which uses ecophysiological parameters. Each have strengths and weaknesses. SDMs can incorporate almost any environmental condition and their accuracy can be formally evaluated to inform managers. However, accuracy is affected by data availability and can be limited for emerging pests, and SDMs usually predict year-round distributions, not seasonal outbreaks. CLIMEX can formally incorporate expert ecophysiological knowledge and predicts seasonal outbreaks. However, the methods for formal evaluation are limited and rarely applied. We argue that both approaches can be informative and complementary, but we need tools to integrate and evaluate their accuracy. Here we develop such an approach, and test it by forecasting the potential global range of the tomato pest Tuta absoluta. RESULTS: The accuracy of previously developed CLIMEX and new statistical SDMs were comparable on average, but the best statistical SDM techniques and environmental data substantially outperformed CLIMEX. The ensembled approach changes expectations of T. absoluta's spread. The pest's environmental tolerances and potential range in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and Australia will be larger than previous estimates. CONCLUSION: We recommend that CLIMEX be considered one of a suite of SDM techniques and thus evaluated formally. CLIMEX and statistical SDMs should be compared and ensembled if possible. We provide code that can be used to do so when employing the biomod suite of SDM techniques.