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Data from: An evaluation of transferability of ecological niche models

Cite this dataset

Qiao, Huijie et al. (2018). Data from: An evaluation of transferability of ecological niche models [Dataset]. Dryad.


Ecological niche modeling (ENM) is used widely to study species’ geographic distributions. ENM applications frequently involve transferring models calibrated with environmental data from one region to other regions or times that may include novel environmental conditions. When novel conditions are present, transferability implies extrapolation, whereas, in absence of such conditions, transferability is an interpolation step only. We evaluated transferability of models produced using 11 ENM algorithms from the perspective of interpolation and extrapolation in a virtual species framework. We defined fundamental niches and potential distributions of 16 virtual species distributed across Eurasia. To simulate real situations of incomplete understanding of species’ distribution or existing fundamental niche (environmental conditions suitable for the species contained in the study area; NF), we divided Eurasia into six regions and used 1-5 regions for model calibration and the rest for model evaluation. The models produced with the 11 ENM algorithms were evaluated in environmental space, to complement the traditional geographic evaluation of models. None of the algorithms accurately estimated the existing fundamental niche (NF) given one region in calibration, and model evaluation scores decreased as the novelty of the environments in the evaluation regions increased, so we recommend quantifying environmental similarity between calibration and transfer regions prior to model transfer, providing an avenue for assessing uncertainty of model transferability. Different algorithms had different sensitivities to completeness of knowledge of NF, with implications for algorithm selection. If the goal is to reconstruct fundamental niches, users should choose algorithms with limited extrapolation when NF is well known, or choose algorithms with increased extrapolation when NF is poorly known. Our assessment can inform applications of ecological niche modeling transference to anticipate species invasions into novel areas, disease emergence in new regions, and forecasts of species distributions under future climate conditions.

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