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Correlation and process in species distribution models: bridging a dichotomy

Authors

  • Carsten F. Dormann,

    Corresponding author
    1. Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Department Computational Landscape Ecology, 04318 Leipzig, Germany
    2. Biometry and Environmental System Analysis, Faculty of Forest and Environmental Sciences, University of Freiburg, D-79106 Freiburg, Germany
      Carsten Dormann, Biometry and Environmental System Analysis, Faculty of Forest and Environmental Sciences, University of Freiburg, Tennenbacherstrasse 4 D-79106 Freiburg, Germany.
      E-mail: carsten.dormann@biom.uni-freiburg.de
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  • Stanislaus J. Schymanski,

    1. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, 07745 Jena, Germany
    2. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland
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  • Juliano Cabral,

    1. Free Floater Group Biodiversity, Macroecology and Conservation Biogeography, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
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  • Isabelle Chuine,

    1. Equipe BIOFLUX, Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive–CNRS, 34293 Montpellier Cedex 05, France
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  • Catherine Graham,

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5245, USA
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  • Florian Hartig,

    1. Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Department Ecological Modelling, 04318 Leipzig, Germany
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  • Michael Kearney,

    1. Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia
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  • Xavier Morin,

    1. ETH Zürich, Forest Ecology, Institut für Terrestrische Ökosysteme, 8092 Zürich, Switzerland
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  • Christine Römermann,

    1. Institute for Physical Geography, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main, D-60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
    2. Theoretical Ecology, Faculty of Biology and Preclinical Medicine, University of Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany
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  • Boris Schröder,

    1. Potsdam University, Institute of Geoecology, D-14476 Potsdam, Germany
    2. Technical University Munich, Landscape Ecology, 85354 Freising, Germany
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  • Alexander Singer

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5245, USA
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Carsten Dormann, Biometry and Environmental System Analysis, Faculty of Forest and Environmental Sciences, University of Freiburg, Tennenbacherstrasse 4 D-79106 Freiburg, Germany.
E-mail: carsten.dormann@biom.uni-freiburg.de

Abstract

Within the field of species distribution modelling an apparent dichotomy exists between process-based and correlative approaches, where the processes are explicit in the former and implicit in the latter. However, these intuitive distinctions can become blurred when comparing species distribution modelling approaches in more detail. In this review article, we contrast the extremes of the correlative–process spectrum of species distribution models with respect to core assumptions, model building and selection strategies, validation, uncertainties, common errors and the questions they are most suited to answer. The extremes of such approaches differ clearly in many aspects, such as model building approaches, parameter estimation strategies and transferability. However, they also share strengths and weaknesses. We show that claims of one approach being intrinsically superior to the other are misguided and that they ignore the process–correlation continuum as well as the domains of questions that each approach is addressing. Nonetheless, the application of process-based approaches to species distribution modelling lags far behind more correlative (process-implicit) methods and more research is required to explore their potential benefits. Critical issues for the employment of species distribution modelling approaches are given, together with a guideline for appropriate usage. We close with challenges for future development of process-explicit species distribution models and how they may complement current approaches to study species distributions.

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