Incorporating biotic interactions in the distribution models of African wild silk moths (Gonometa species, Lasiocampidae) using different representations of modelled host tree distributions

31 Aug 2018

Biotic interactions influence species niches and may thus shape distributions. Nevertheless, species distribution modelling has traditionally relied exclusively on environmental factors to predict species distributions, while biotic interactions have only seldom been incorporated into models. This study tested the ability of incorporating biotic interactions, in the form of host plant distributions, to increase model performance for two host‐dependent lepidopterans of economic interest, namely the African silk moth species, Gonometa postica and Gonometa rufobrunnea (Lasiocampidae). Both species are dependent on a small number of host tree species for the completion of their life cycle. We thus expected the host plant distribution to be an important predictor of Gonometa distributions. Model performance of a species distribution model trained only on abiotic predictors was compared to four species distribution models that additionally incorporated biotic interactions in the form of four different representations of host plant distributions as predictors. We found that incorporating the moth–host plant interactions improved G. rufobrunnea model performance for all representations of host plant distribution, while for G. postica model performance only improved for one representation of host plant distribution. The best performing representation of host plant distribution differed for the two Gonometa species. While these results suggest that incorporating biotic interactions into species distribution models can improve model performance, there is inconsistency in which representation of the host tree distribution best improves predictions. Therefore, the ability of biotic interactions to improve species distribution models may be context‐specific, even for species which have obligatory interactions with other organisms.