Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Ecological Niches and Geographic Distributions (MPB-49)

Ecological Niches and Geographic Distributions (MPB-49)

A. Townsend Peterson
Jorge Soberón
Richard G. Pearson
Robert P. Anderson
Enrique Martínez-Meyer
Miguel Nakamura
Miguel Bastos Araújo
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ecological Niches and Geographic Distributions (MPB-49)
    Book Description:

    This book provides a first synthetic view of an emerging area of ecology and biogeography, linking individual- and population-level processes to geographic distributions and biodiversity patterns. Problems in evolutionary ecology, macroecology, and biogeography are illuminated by this integrative view. The book focuses on correlative approaches known as ecological niche modeling, species distribution modeling, or habitat suitability modeling, which use associations between known occurrences of species and environmental variables to identify environmental conditions under which populations can be maintained. The spatial distribution of environments suitable for the species can then be estimated: a potential distribution for the species. This approach has broad applicability to ecology, evolution, biogeography, and conservation biology, as well as to understanding the geographic potential of invasive species and infectious diseases, and the biological implications of climate change.

    The authors lay out conceptual foundations and general principles for understanding and interpreting species distributions with respect to geography and environment. Focus is on development of niche models. While serving as a guide for students and researchers, the book also provides a theoretical framework to support future progress in the field.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4067-0
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The fields of historical biogeography and ecological biogeography have long been paradoxically disparate and distant from one another, with different terminologies, different concepts, and almost nonoverlapping sets of researchers. Ecological biogeography focuses on spatial pattern in the composition and functioning of ecological communities, while historical biogeography attempts to reconstruct the history of areas and their biotas. Although some recent steps have narrowed gaps a bit, the two fields have long been quite distinct and disconnected, and spatial understanding of biodiversity has suffered as a consequence.

    Differences between the two biogeographies are manifold: certainly, spatial scale is an important one, with...

  5. Part I THEORY

    • CHAPTER TWO Concepts of Niches
      (pp. 7-22)

      It has often been pointed out that the term “niche” disguises several concepts under a single label (Whittaker et al. 1973, Colwell 1992, Leibold 1995, Chase and Leibold 2003, Odling-Smee et al. 2003). Some authors, perhaps overwhelmed by the broad variety and subtle shades of meaning assigned to the word, have advised that “niche is perhaps a term best left undefined” (Bell 1982). We disagree: in science, arguments benefit from precise and consistent usage of key concepts; otherwise, clear thinking is hindered. Using the same word to refer to different ideas leads to confusion, as the picturesque history of the...

    • CHAPTER THREE Niches and Geographic Distributions
      (pp. 23-48)

      In chapter 2, we began developing and exploring a concept of niche that emphasizes multidimensional spaces of scenopoetic variables, typically measured at coarse spatial resolutions and over broad geographic extents. Such a niche concept not only has had a long and fruitful tradition in ecology, but also provides a natural connection to the study of geographic distributions of species and the broader field of biogeography. In this chapter, we develop this idea in greater detail.

      First, we must consider the concept of the geographic distribution, or range, of a species, and the approaches available by which to measure it. Ranges...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Niches and Distributions in Practice: Overview
      (pp. 51-61)

      Part I of this book set out a conceptual framework for understanding relationships between niches (in environmental space, or E-space) and spatial distributions (in geographic space, or G-space). This theory forms the base for the next sections, which deal with the practice of modeling ecological niches and estimating geographic distributions (part II) and applications of these methods (part III). Although we cover a wide variety of modeling methods and applications in this set of chapters, the same basic approach is used throughout. This process can be outlined as follows (Hirzel et al. 2002):

      The study area is conceptualized as a...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Species’ Occurrence Data
      (pp. 62-81)

      Although most of biological diversity is poorly known (Wilson 1988, Erwin 1991), one commonality among species is that something is generally known about where they occur on Earth. That is, an integral part of every scientific description of a species is information about the geographic provenance of the available type specimen material (e.g., for animals, Article 76, ICZN 1999). Therefore, all known species should have at least one geographic occurrence locality available. In many cases, of course, the situation is better than just the type locality, with data from specimens or observations documenting many additional occurrences also available.

      This book...

    • CHAPTER SIX Environmental Data
      (pp. 82-96)

      Ecological niche models are built from two sources of input data: (1) the known occurrences of the species of interest discussed in chapter 5, and (2) environmental predictors in the form of raster-format GIS layers. Whereas the quality of and biases in occurrence data have seen considerable documentation and discussion (e.g., Soberón et al. 2000; see chapter 5), the nature, quality, and biases of environmental datasets have seldom been considered in detail in niche modeling analyses, despite the key role that they play in the process of calibrating models (Peterson and Nakazawa 2008). In this chapter, we discuss conceptual and...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Modeling Ecological Niches
      (pp. 97-137)

      In the preceding two chapters, we discussed the biological occurrence (chapter 5) and environmental (chapter 6) data necessary for developing ecological niche models. In this chapter, we focus on how to use these data to create models that characterize species’ ecological niches in E-space (which can then be applied to and visualized in regions of G). The task is to characterize every cell within a region in terms of quantitative values related to probability of occurrence (or group membership), as a function of the environmental conditions presented in that cell. In the terminology presented in chapter 4, we aim to...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT From Niches to Distributions
      (pp. 138-149)

      Species’ potential geographic distributional areas GPoften differ from their occupied distributional areas GO. In this chapter, we discuss the conceptual bases for this discrepancy, and summarize methodological approaches to addressing the consequent problems. First, we discuss the meaning of the potential distribution GP, and describe reasons why a niche model may not estimate it correctly. Next, we explore reasons why a species may not be at equilibrium with its potential distribution GP(or GA, see the following), but rather inhabits only some subset of areas suitable for it (see chapter 3; Araújo and Pearson 2005). In terms of the...

    • CHAPTER NINE Evaluating Model Performance and Significance
      (pp. 150-182)

      Evaluating the predictive performance and statistical significance of a model constitutes a critical phase of niche modeling, and researchers should demonstrate that their models are of sufficient quality to meet the needs of the project at hand before using or interpreting them in any way (Peterson 2005a). In chapter 4, in the process of clarifying modeling concepts and developing basic mathematical notations, we also provided an overview of key principles of model evaluation. Here, we develop the topic in considerably greater depth, and discuss a framework for selecting appropriate evaluation strategies for a particular study

      We begin by reviewing key...


    • CHAPTER TEN Introduction to Applications
      (pp. 185-188)

      So far in this book, we have set out a theoretical framework for modeling ecological niches and estimating abiotically suitable, potential, and occupied distributional areas (chapters 2 to 4). Then, in a more practical mode, we have described issues related to the practice of modeling, including the particulars of occurrence and environmental datasets (chapters 5 and 6), aspects of how to estimate different niches using diverse correlational modeling methods (chapter 7), the process of modifying raw model predictions to estimate geographic distributions (chapter 8), and methods by which to evaluate model performance and significance quantitatively (chapter 9). In this final...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Discovering Biodiversity
      (pp. 189-199)

      Ecological niche models may be exciting principally because they provide a predictive basis for novel inferences about biodiversity and its distribution in space, time, and environment. One way in which this predictive understanding can be put to good use is that of anticipating distributions of new elements of biodiversity (populations and species) that are not as-yet known or documented. Conceptually, the idea is quite straightforward, and a few initial applications have been developed; however, this application of niche models begs further exploration. If the initial promise continues to translate into further success, this application may rank among the most interesting...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Conservation Planning and Climate Change Effects
      (pp. 200-214)

      The field of conservation biology seeks to provide scientific guidance for halting or slowing the current extinction wave and degradation of the planet’s biological diversity. To achieve this goal, conservation biologists attempt to answer fundamental questions, such as what to conserve, where best to conserve it, and how best to conserve it (Primack 2006). Can niche models help to address these questions? We believe that the answer is yes, particularly by helping researchers answer the “what” and “where” questions. However, using niche models to address conservation questions requires a solid understanding of the underlying concepts and methods.

      Inappropriate interpretation of...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Species’ Invasions
      (pp. 215-225)

      Invasive species are a global phenomenon with massive consequences, both in biological and economic realms (Williamson 1996, NAS 2002). In human economic arenas, invasive species affect agricultural productivity, transportation systems, communication systems, disease transmission, recreational fishing, hunting, and birdwatching, and many other dimensions (Pimentel et al. 2004), with economic costs that mount into the billions of U.S. dollars annually. Indeed, a recent calculation was that the annual cost of invasive species in the United States alone reaches $120 billion annually (Pimentel et al. 2004). In natural systems, invasive species can be transformational, affecting not only ecosystem services (Zavaleta et al....

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN The Geography of Disease Transmission
      (pp. 226-237)

      Zoonotic diseases (i.e., diseases that circulate in the animal world, occasionally affecting humans or other species of interest) are by definition a phenomenon of interactions among species. That is, the pathogen itself is a virus, bacterium, fungus, protozoan, or other small-sized species. Another (usually) larger-bodied species often serves as the reservoir species for that pathogen, holding a long-term pool of pathogen populations in a cycle of transmission and infection. Finally, other species (often arthropods or mollusks) may serve to move the pathogen from one individual of the reservoir species to another, or from the reservoir to humans—these species are...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Linking Niches with Evolutionary Processes
      (pp. 238-255)

      As methods for modeling and understanding ecological niches and geographic distributions of species have become increasingly robust and well-understood, evolutionary biologists have begun to pay attention. That is because a critical dimension of the evolutionary biology of species is precisely their ecological requirements, as biogeography, distribution, and genetic variation all hinge rather critically on the ecological niche. Evolutionary studies of ecological niches have thus begun to appear in numbers, amplifying the diversity of challenges to which these techniques have been applied.

      Since the envelope of environmental space available to a species [i.e., environments represented within M or η(M)] changes through...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Conclusions
      (pp. 256-258)

      This book is the result of years of discussion, debate, and exploration among seven authors, each of whom has had a distinct trajectory of research efforts that have led to an interest in species’ niches and distributions. As a consequence, this book represents a consensus, and sometimes détente, of diverse viewpoints and approaches. What we hope we have achieved, nonetheless, is a step toward a comprehensive framework for thinking about the geography and ecology of where species are and are not distributed.

      Our central idea in this book, particularly looking back over the years of discussion and development that it...

  8. Appendices

    • APPENDIX A: Glossary of Symbols Used
      (pp. 261-265)
    • APPENDIX B: Set Theory for G- and E-Space
      (pp. 266-268)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 269-280)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-314)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-316)