Conservation biologists increasingly rely on spatial predictive models of biodiversity to support decision-making. Therefore, highly accurate and ecologically meaningful models are required at relatively broad spatial scales. While statistical techniques have been optimized to improve model accuracy, less focus has been given to the question: How does the autecology of a single species affect model quality? We compare a direct modelling approach versus a cumulative modelling approach for predicting plant species richness, where the latter gives more weight to the ecology of functional species groups. In the direct modelling approach, species richness is predicted by a single model calibrated for all species. In the cumulative modelling approach, the species were partitioned into functional groups, with each group calibrated separately and species richness of each group was cumulated to predict total species richness. We hypothesized that model accuracy depends on the ecology of individual species and that the cumulative modelling approach would predict species richness more accurately. The predictors explained plant species richness by ca. 25%. However, depending on the functional group the deviance explained varied from 3 to 67%. While both modelling approaches performed equally well, the models of the different functional groups highly varied in their quality and their spatial richness pattern. This variability helps to improve our understanding on how plant functional groups respond to ecological gradients.

Steinmann, K., Linder, H. P., & Zimmermann, N. E. (2009). Modelling plant species richness using functional groups. Ecological Modelling, 220(7), 962–967.