A framework for using niche models to estimate impacts of climate change on species distributions

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2013 Sep;1297:8-28. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12264.


Predicting species geographic distributions in the future is an important yet exceptionally challenging endeavor. Overall, it requires a two-step process: (1) a niche model characterizing suitability, applied to projections of future conditions and linked to (2) a dispersal/demographic simulation estimating the species' future occupied distribution. Despite limitations, for the vast majority of species, correlative approaches are the most feasible avenue for building niche models. In addition to myriad technical issues regarding model building, researchers should follow critical principles for selecting predictor variables and occurrence data, demonstrating effective performance in prediction across space, and extrapolating into nonanalog conditions. Many of these principles relate directly to the niche space, dispersal/demographic noise, biotic noise, and human noise assumptions defined here. Issues requiring progress include modeling interactions between abiotic variables, integrating biotic variables, considering genetic heterogeneity, and quantifying uncertainty. Once built, the niche model identifying currently suitable conditions must be processed to approximate the areas that the species occupies. That estimate serves as a seed for the simulation of persistence, dispersal, and establishment in future suitable areas. The dispersal/demographic simulation also requires data regarding the species' dispersal ability and demography, scenarios for future land use, and the capability of considering multiple interacting species simultaneously.

Keywords: biotic interactions; climate change; dispersal; ecological niche model; land use; species distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biota
  • Climate
  • Climate Change*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecology / methods*
  • Ecosystem
  • Forecasting
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical