Biodiversity Science ›› 2013, Vol. 21 ›› Issue (1): 90-98.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2013.09106

• Orginal Article • Previous Article     Next Article

Ecological niche modeling and its applications in biodiversity conservation

Gengping Zhu*(), Guoqing Liu, Wenjun Bu, Yubao Gao*()   

  1. College of Life Sciences, Nankai University, Tianjin 300071
  • Received:2012-04-23 Accepted:2012-07-11 Online:2013-02-04
  • Zhu Gengping,Gao Yubao;

Based on the environmental variables that associated with species’ occurrence records, ecological niche modeling (ENM) seeks to characterize environmental conditions suitable for a particular species and then identify where suitable environmental habitats are distributed in the space. Recently, ENM has been used increasingly in biological invasion, conservation biology, biological responses to climate change, disease spatial transmission, and variety aspects of ecology and evolutionary biology research. However, the theoretical background of these applications is generally poorly understood, leading to artifactual conclusions in some studies (e.g. niche differentiation during species’ invasion). In this paper we discuss the relationship between niche and geographic distribution and introduce the theoretical basis of ENM, along with relationships between the niche and ENM. Abiotic/biotic, historical and dispersal factors are three key elements that determine species’ geographic distributions at different scales. By using environmental variables derived from distributional records, ENM is based on observations that already include effects of biotic interactions, therefore ENM is used to characterize somewhere between the realized niche and potential niche, not the fundamental niche. Grinnellian and Eltonian niches are both manifested in ENM calibration, depending on the types of variables used to fit model, the natural spatial scale at which they can be measured, and the dispersal of individuals throughout the environment. Applications of ENM in understanding ecological requirements of species, discovery of new species or populations, nature reserve design, predicting potential invasion, modeling biological responses to climate change, niche conservatism, and species delimitation are discussed in this paper.

Key words: ecological niche modeling, niche conservatism, spatial scale, Grinnellian niche, Eltonian niche, fundamental niche, potential niche, realized niche

Fig. 1

Diagram showing a simplified framework for understanding species distribution adopted from (Soberón & Peterson, 2005; Soberón, 2010). Overlap of the three circles (GO) represents areas of actual distribution, within which environment are favorable (circle A), accessible (circle M), and biologically suitable (circle B) to the species. Area A represents geographic extent of the fundamental ecological niche, and GI represents areas of potential distribution. The open circles represent source populations, whereas the closed circles represent sink populations."

Fig. 2

Relative importance of factors affecting species distributions across spatial scales adopted from (Pearson & Dawson, 2003; Soberón 2007, 2010; Hortal et al., 2010)"

Fig. 3

Ecological niche modeling (ENM) building up the fridge of geographical space and ecological space adopted from (Pearson, 2007)"

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