In a world facing rapid environmental changes, anticipating their impacts on biodiversity is of utmost relevance. Remotely-sensed Ecosystem Functional Attributes (EFAs) are promising predictors for Species Distribution Models (SDMs) by offering an early and integrative response of vegetation performance to environmental drivers. Species of high conservation concern would benefit the most from a better ability to anticipate changes in habitat suitability. Here we illustrate how yearly projections from SDMs based on EFAs could reveal short-term changes in potential habitat suitability, anticipating mid-term shifts predicted by climate-change-scenario models. We fitted two sets of SDMs for 41 plant species of conservation concern in the Iberian Peninsula: one calibrated with climate variables for baseline conditions and projected under two climate-change-scenarios (future conditions); and the other calibrated with EFAs for 2001 and projected annually from 2001 to 2013. Range shifts predicted by climate-based models for future conditions were compared to the 2001–2013 trends from EFAs-based models. Projections of EFAs-based models estimated changes (mostly contractions) in habitat suitability that anticipated, for the majority (up to 64%) of species, the mid-term shifts projected by traditional climate-change-scenario forecasting, and showed greater agreement with the business-as-usual scenario than with the sustainable-development one. This study shows how satellite-derived EFAs can be used as meaningful essential biodiversity variables in SDMs to provide early-warnings of range shifts and predictions of short-term fluctuations in suitable conditions for multiple species.
Keywords: Climate change, Enhanced vegetation index, Essential biodiversity variables, Iberian Peninsula, Interannual variability, Multi-species monitoring, Species distribution models, Threatened plants