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Measuring and comparing the accuracy of species distribution models with presence–absence data


  • Canran Liu,

  • Matt White,

  • Graeme Newell

C. Liu (, M. White and G. Newell, Arthur Rylah Inst. for Environmental Research, Dept of Sustainability and Environment, 123 Brown Street, Heidelberg, Victoria 3084, Australia.


Species distribution models have been widely used to predict species distributions for various purposes, including conservation planning, and climate change impact assessment. The success of these applications relies heavily on the accuracy of the models. Various measures have been proposed to assess the accuracy of the models. Rigorous statistical analysis should be incorporated in model accuracy assessment. However, since relevant information about the statistical properties of accuracy measures is scattered across various disciplines, ecologists find it difficult to select the most appropriate ones for their research. In this paper, we review accuracy measures that are currently used in species distribution modelling (SDM), and introduce additional metrics that have potential applications in SDM. For the commonly used measures (which are also intensively studied by statisticians), including overall accuracy, sensitivity, specificity, kappa, and area and partial area under the ROC curves, promising methods to construct confidence intervals and statistically compare the accuracy between two models are given. For other accuracy measures, methods to estimate standard errors are given, which can be used to construct approximate confidence intervals. We also suggest that as general tools, computer-intensive methods, especially bootstrap and randomization methods can be used in constructing confidence intervals and statistical tests if suitable analytic methods cannot be found. Usually, these computer-intensive methods provide robust results.