HomeLatest FeedsTechnology NewsHungarian researchers have developed a new method for investigating the distribution of...

Hungarian researchers have developed a new method for investigating the distribution of species

Currently, there is no commonly used method for delimiting the distribution area.

Hungarian researchers have developed a new method for tracking climate change and the shift in species distribution boundaries, announced the HUN-REN Hungarian Research Network. Beáta Oborny, senior scientific associate at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences of the HUN-REN Ecological Research Center (HUN-REN ÖK ETI), associate professor at the Institute of Biology at ELTE, and her colleagues have developed a new method for investigating the distribution of species. With the help of a method based on some general characteristics of the spread of populations, different species and geographical locations can be compared.

The aim of the researchers is to effectively monitor the changes in the distribution areas of the species. The publication published in the magazine Ecography with the co-authorship of Dániel Zimmermann, a researcher at the Institute of Biology at ELTE, was awarded the title “article of the month”.

One of the consequences of climate change is that the habitats of some species are shifting, for example, as a result of warming, the forest line in the high mountains stretches higher. There are species whose geographic range is narrowing, while others are able to maintain their current positions stably and may even begin to expand. The question is whether the species’ ability to spread is fast enough to follow suitable habitats.

The former case, the shrinking of the territory, threatens many protected species nowadays. Expansion becomes noticeable to most people when a pest – such as a weed species – or a disease agent appears in new areas. However, such areal movements are taking place all over the planet in a wide variety of plant, animal and other species, and are becoming more and more significant as climate change progresses. The survival of entire ecosystems can be threatened by extinctions and newly arriving species. The phenomenon is now also a environmental and economic challenge on a global scale.

Whether it is a narrowing or expanding area, it is important to be able to accurately mark the current distribution limits of the species, as future ones can be compared to them. The task is not self-explanatory, because the border of the distribution areas often has a complicated pattern. Another difficulty is that the pattern of places occupied by a species changes over time due to the death of existing individuals and the birth and movement of new ones – seed dispersal in plants. So, in a complicated pattern, random fluctuations should be separated from trend-like shifts, in the shortest possible time. Currently, there is no commonly used method for delimiting the distribution area.

Beáta Oborny and her colleagues propose a new method, with the help of which the distribution area can be precisely defined and shifts can be better detected. The essence of this is that it is not worth dealing with the outermost, isolated occurrences of the species. As important as these isolated occurrences are in other respects, they are not useful for detecting a shift because they are not statistically reliable. Instead, it is worth observing another border, namely between continuous and fragmented occurrence. Here, the density of occurrence is higher and the random fluctuations are smaller. It is worth drawing the current limit of distribution in the center line of this population front and following its movement.

The researchers tested the usability of the method using computer simulations. They studied the formation and movement of the population front line, which was found to have a characteristic spatial structure (fractal with dimension 7/4) in different environmental conditions and species with different characteristics. If climate change occurs and the front moves as a result, then the fractal structure will remain whether the boundary line is retreating or advancing, provided that the advance is not too fast.

In case of fast progress, the front is distorted, this can be seen from the fact that its fractal dimension decreases. In this way, it can be detected if the species can no longer follow the displacement of the habitat, i.e. it “falls behind in the race”.

The new method can help researchers better understand the movements of species due to a changing climate on a global scale. Further investigations can provide ideas on how to promote or prevent the spread of a specific species more effectively, the announcement states.

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