Pushing the limits in marine species distribution modelling: lessons from the land present challenges and opportunities

Robinson, L. M., Elith, J., Hobday, A. J., Pearson, R. G., Kendall, B. E., Possingham, H. P. and Richardson, A. J. (2011) Pushing the limits in marine species distribution modelling: lessons from the land present challenges and opportunities. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 20 6: 789-802. doi:10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00636.x

Author Robinson, L. M.
Elith, J.
Hobday, A. J.
Pearson, R. G.
Kendall, B. E.
Possingham, H. P.
Richardson, A. J.
Title Pushing the limits in marine species distribution modelling: lessons from the land present challenges and opportunities
Journal name Global Ecology and Biogeography   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1466-822X
Publication date 2011-11
Sub-type Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
DOI 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00636.x
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 20
Issue 6
Start page 789
End page 802
Total pages 14
Place of publication Oxford, England, U. K.
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing
Collection year 2012
Language eng
Formatted abstract
Species distribution models (SDMs) have been used to address a wide range of theoretical and applied questions in the terrestrial realm, but marine-based applications remain relatively scarce. In this review, we consider how conceptual and practical issues associated with terrestrial SDMs apply to a range of marine organisms and highlight the challenges relevant to improving marine SDMs. Location We include studies from both marine and terrestrial systems that encompass many geographic locations around the globe.


We first performed a literature search and analysis of marine and terrestrial SDMs in ISI Web of Science to assess trends and applications. Using knowledge from terrestrial applications, we critically evaluate the application of SDMs in marine systems in the context of ecological factors (dispersal, species interactions, aggregation and ontogenetic shifts) and practical considerations (data quality, alternative modelling approaches and model validation) that facilitate or create difficulties for model application.


The relative importance of ecological factors to be considered when applying SDMs varies among terrestrial and marine organisms. Correctly incorporating dispersal is frequently considered an important issue for terrestrial models, but because there is greater potential for dispersal in the ocean, it is often less of a concern in marine SDMs. By contrast, ontogenetic shifts and feeding have received little attention in terrestrial SDM applications, but these factors are important to many marine SDMs. Opportunities also exist for applying more advanced SDM approaches in the marine realm, including mechanistic ecophysiological models, where water balance and heat transfer equations are simpler for some marine organisms relative to their terrestrial counterparts.

Main conclusions

SDMs have generally been under-utilized in the marine realm relative to terrestrial applications. Correlative SDM methods should be tested on a range of marine organisms, and we suggest further development of methods that address ontogenetic shifts and feeding interactions. We anticipate developments in, and cross-fertilization between, coupled correlative and process-based SDMs, mechanistic eco-physiological SDMs, and spatial population dynamic models for climate change and species invasion applications in particular. Comparisons of the outputs of different model types will provide insight that is useful for improved spatial management of marine species
Keyword Aggregation
Bioclimatic envelope model
Ecological niche modelling
Marine Environment
Ontogenetic shifts
Species distribution models
Terrestrial systems
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
Collections: School of Mathematics and Physics
Official 2012 Collection
Ecology Centre Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 106 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 113 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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