Abstract In this study, multivariate spatial clustering on monthly normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) maps is used to classify ecological regions over the western Palaearctic. This classification is then used to delineate the distribution and climate preferences of populations (clades) of the tick Ixodes ricinus L. (Acari: Ixodidae) from a geographically extensive dataset of tick records and a gridded 2.5-km resolution climate dataset. Using monthly layers of the NDVI, regions of similar ecological attributes were defined and nine populations with significant differences in critical climate parameters (P < 0.005) were detected. Grouping of tick records according to other categories, such as political divisions, a 4°× 4° grid overlying the study area, or the CORINE) and USGS) vegetation classification schemes did not provided significantly separated populations (P= 0.094–0.304). Factor analysis and hierarchical tree clustering provided an ecological overview of these tick clades: two Mediterranean and one Scandinavian (western) clades are clearly separated from a node that includes clades of different parts of central Europe and the British Isles, with contrasting affinities between the different clades. The capture records of these ecologically separated clades produce a clear bias when bioclimate envelope modelling is applied to the mapping of habitat suitability for the tick in the western Palaearctic. The best-performing methods (Cohen’s kappa = 0.834–0.912) use partial models developed with data from each ecoregion, which are then overlapped over the region of study. It is concluded that the use of ecologically derived ecoregions is an objective step in assessing the presence of ecologically different clades, and provides a guide in the development of data partitioning for habitat suitability modelling.