Species Distribution Modelling

Wednesday 9th October 2013

This is a joint meeting of the Environmental Statistics Section (ESS) of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), British and Irish region of the Biometric Society and the Computational Ecology Special Interest Group of the British Ecological Society (BES).
The meeting will be held at Charles Darwin House, in London.


Member of Biometric/Royal Statistical Society/British Ecological Society: £30
Student Member: £15
Non-Member: £60

Poster Session:

We invite the presentation of posters on Species Distribution Modelling at the meeting.If you wish to present a poster please email your poster title to Diana Cole (d.j.cole@kent.ac.uk).


 Document downloads for IBS members.
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09.45 - 10.00Registration
10.00 - 11.15Best Practice Workshop

With SDMs being used so widely and variously in our discipline the theme of this meeting is “what constitutes good practice?”. Our day will begin with a workshop in which we ask our invited speakers to briefly recommend one essential piece of advice as to what constitutes good practice, organised along a study pipeline from “deciding what to model” to “interpreting and visualising outputs”. This will be followed by group discussion about each of the steps along the way. The aim is to help attendees avoid some of the most important basic issues that arise when using SDMs – and to have some good discussion around what constitutes good and bad practices.

11.15 - 11.45Coffee Break
11.45 - 12.25Some contrasting examples of SDM applications in the study of evolution, ecology, and conservation

Richard Pearson (University College London)


Burgeoning datasets of environmental and biological information, combined with SDMs, are enabling novel ways to study ecological niches and geographic distributions. In this talk I will share some recent and ongoing initiatives that make use of these developments to shed new light on evolutionary processes and to develop improved strategies for biodiversity conservation. I will first describe recent work to better understand the evolutionary and ecological processes that drive patterns of micro-endemism in Madagascar. I will then focus on work that looks at the potential impacts of future climate change on biodiversity in the Arctic and in North America, and will discuss implications for feedbacks to the global climate system as well as ways to assess species’ vulnerability to climate change.

12.25 - 13.30Lunch
12.25 - 13.30Poster Session
  • Can large scale patterns in insect atlas data predict fine scale occupancy by Louise Barwell (NERC)
  • Invasion patterns and potential distribution of the Chinese muntjac deer (Muntiacus reevesi) by Marianne Freeman (Queen’s University Belfast)
  • Demystifying correlative SDMs – basic guidance for removing sampling bias, choosing algorithms, and managing complexity by Matt Smith (Microsoft)
  • Detecting individual dispersal behaviour from collective data by Alla Mashanova (RHUL)
  • Predicting the Impact of Canine Distemper Virus on a Population Viability Analysis for an Amur Leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) Reintroduction by Stuart Patterson (RVC)
  • SDM in the real world by Allan Reese and Mark Thrush (Cefas) 
  • Inferring diversity pattern and ecological processes from stacked SDMs by Mindy Syfert
  • Consequences of global warming on invasive species: the example of ants by Quentin Struelens (Universite Libre de Bruxelles)


13.30 - 14.10Emerging issues in SDM, Colin Beale

(University of York)

Modern statistical approaches to species distribution modelling are now well established in the ecological mainstream. As descriptions of current distribution these models can be very accurate, but much of the modern interest in species distribution models lies in their potential to predict future distribution changes, and as predictive models the current generation of models have widely acknowledged shortcomings. The search for improved predictive models of distribution is currently leading innovations in SDM, with new classes of model that combine data and models from a wide variety of sources marking a new generation of species distribution models. Promising directions include incorporation of phenological data, physiological data, phylogenetic data, trait data and combining information from multiple surveys. This talk will be a personal and biased survey some of the practical and philosophical shortcoming of the current generation of distribution models that provide challenges for the next generation of models to address, before reviewing and illustrating progress towards the next generation of models.


14.10 - 14.50Climate Envelopes for Species Distribution Models, Mark Brewer (BioSS)
Spatial models of species distribution often include attempts to describe relationships of presence with climate variables; these are commonly termed "climate envelopes". It is has been claimed that such curves should typically be either unimodal or monotonic, and univariate low-degree spline curves have seemingly become popular.
We argue that current practice can be improved, and propose a simple parametric alternative to spline curves which appeals to biological plausibility as well as capturing common expected features of species' presence/climate relationships. Importantly, the methodology is multivariate, as univariate splines will fail to capture simple interactions between climate covariates. Furthermore, this parametric form can incorporate knowledge from biophysical climate envelope research.
We discuss implementation of the envelopes in both WinBUGS and INLA.
14.50 - 15.20Coffee Break
15.30 - 16.10New quantitative methods for SDM and making them relevant to users, Greg McInerny
(www.2020Science.net University of Oxford/Microsoft Research Cambridge)
Species Distribution Modelling (SDM) is fascinating. It is a prolific, multi-faceted and often controversial research domain for which a best practice remains un-resolved. SDM faces difficult challenges in ‘hard’ topics such as statistics, computation & data, and also faces difficult challenges in ‘soft’ topics such as philosophy, software design practices & culture. In this talk I will describe new research in: (1) ‘hard’ topics (the motivations and details of two new methods that address major sources of uncertainty for SDM [Fine-Scale Environmental Variation & Biotic Interactions]); and (2) ‘soft’ topics (the most underexplored and perhaps most controversial issues– ‘Software Usability’). I will also explain why these research areas are intimately linked and suggest that adopting a more joined-up approach to these diverse challenges will aid progress for SDM.
16.10 - 16.45Group Discussion


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