Do pseudo-absence selection strategies influence species distribution models and their predictions? An information-theoretic approach based on simulated data

BMC Ecol. 2009 Apr 24;9:8. doi: 10.1186/1472-6785-9-8.


Background: Multiple logistic regression is precluded from many practical applications in ecology that aim to predict the geographic distributions of species because it requires absence data, which are rarely available or are unreliable. In order to use multiple logistic regression, many studies have simulated "pseudo-absences" through a number of strategies, but it is unknown how the choice of strategy influences models and their geographic predictions of species. In this paper we evaluate the effect of several prevailing pseudo-absence strategies on the predictions of the geographic distribution of a virtual species whose "true" distribution and relationship to three environmental predictors was predefined. We evaluated the effect of using a) real absences b) pseudo-absences selected randomly from the background and c) two-step approaches: pseudo-absences selected from low suitability areas predicted by either Ecological Niche Factor Analysis: (ENFA) or BIOCLIM. We compared how the choice of pseudo-absence strategy affected model fit, predictive power, and information-theoretic model selection results.

Results: Models built with true absences had the best predictive power, best discriminatory power, and the "true" model (the one that contained the correct predictors) was supported by the data according to AIC, as expected. Models based on random pseudo-absences had among the lowest fit, but yielded the second highest AUC value (0.97), and the "true" model was also supported by the data. Models based on two-step approaches had intermediate fit, the lowest predictive power, and the "true" model was not supported by the data.

Conclusion: If ecologists wish to build parsimonious GLM models that will allow them to make robust predictions, a reasonable approach is to use a large number of randomly selected pseudo-absences, and perform model selection based on an information theoretic approach. However, the resulting models can be expected to have limited fit.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Logistic Models
  • Models, Biological*