The distributions of many organisms are spatially autocorrelated, but it is unclear whether including spatial terms in species distribution models (SDMs) improves projections of future species distributions. We provide the first comparative test of a purely spatial SDM, a purely non-spatial SDM, and an SDM that combines spatial and environmental information. Spatial SDMs provided better fits to the calibration data, more accurate predictions of a hold-out validation data set of modern trees, and lower false positive rates at all time periods than non-spatial SDMs. Hindcasted projection of spatial SDMs had higher variance than those of non-spatial SDMs. Overall predictive performance of non-spatial and spatial SDMs varied temporally and as a function of niche overlap. Ecological modelers should include spatial terms in SDMs used for projecting future distributions of species.
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