Jiménez-Valverde, A., Lobo, J.M. & Hortal, J. (2008) Not as good as they seem: the importance of concepts in species distribution modelling. Diversity and Distributions, 14, 885–890. doi:10.1111/j.1472-4642.2008.00496.x

Aim  Nowadays, large amounts of species distribution data and software for implementing different species distribution modelling methods are freely available through the internet. As a result, methodological works that analyse the relative performance of modelling techniques, as well as those that study which species characteristics affect their performance, are necessary. We discuss three important topics that must be kept in mind when modelling species distributions, namely (i) the distinction between potential and realized distribution, (ii) the effect of the relative occurrence area of the species on the results of the evaluation of model performance, and (iii) the general inaccuracy of the predictions of the realized distribution provided by species distribution modelling methods.

Location  Unspecific.

Methods Using some recent papers as a basis, we illustrate the three issues mentioned above and discuss the negative implications of neglecting them.

Results  Considering a potential-realized distribution gradient, different modelling methods may be arranged along this gradient according to their ability to model any concept. Complex techniques may be more suitable to model the realized distribution than simple ones, which may be more appropriate to estimate the potential distribution. Comparisons among techniques must consider this scenario. The relative occurrence area of the species conditions the results of the evaluation scores, implying that models of rare species will unavoidably yield higher discrimination values. Moreover, discrimination values that are usually reported in the literature may imply considerable over or underestimations of the distribution of the species.

Main conclusions  It is extremely important to establish a solid conceptual and methodological framework on which the emergent field of species distribution modelling can stand and develop.