10th Anniversary Volume 1: The Art of Modelling Range-Shifting Species

Post provided by Jane Elith, Mike Kearney and Steven Phillips  

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the launch of Methods in Ecology and Evolution, we are highlighting an article from each volume to feature in the Methods.blog. For Volume 1, we have selected ‘The art of modelling range-shifting species’ by Elith et al. (2010).  In this post, first author, Professor Jane Elith, discusses the background and key concepts of the article, and how things have changed since the paper was published.

Illustration of the idea that model settings affect prediction.

We started work on this manuscript around 2008, prompted by increasing use of species distribution models for climate change and invasive species problems. At that stage there was growing recognition of the problems in these applications (e.g. see a recent MEE review on transferability) but relatively few tools for dealing with them. In our view, if correlative models are to be used for such purposes, the data and models require special attention.

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Code-Based Methods and the Problem of Accessibility

Post provided by Jamie M. Kass, Matthew E. Aiello-Lammens, Bruno Vilela, Robert Muscarella, Cory Merow and Robert P. Anderson

The namesake of our software and founder of the field of biogeography, Alfred Russel Wallace. Photo ©G. W. Beccaloni

The namesake of our software and founder of the field of biogeography, Alfred Russel Wallace. Photo ©G. W. Beccaloni

In ecology, new methods are increasingly being accompanied by code, and sometimes even full command-line software packages (usually in R). This is great, as it makes analyses more reproducible and transparent, which is essential for the development of open science. In an ideal world, code would have informative annotation, generalized functions for multipurpose use, and be written in a legible and consistent manner. After all, the code may be used by ecologists with a wide range of programming experience.

In reality, code is often poorly commented (or not commented at all!), hard to reuse for other projects, and difficult to interpret. To add to that, most code isn’t actively maintained, so users are on their own if they try to commandeer it for new purposes. Further, ecologists with little or no programming knowledge are unlikely to benefit from methods that exist only as poorly documented code. In a positive development, some new methods are accessible through software with graphic user interfaces (GUIs) developed by programmers spending significant time and effort. But too often these end up as tools with flashy controls and insufficient instruction manuals. Continue reading