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A quantitative review of abundance-based species distribution models


Waldock, C and Stuart-Smith, RD and Albouy, C and Cheung, WWL and Edgar, GJ and Mouillot, D and Tjiputra, J and Pellissier, L, A quantitative review of abundance-based species distribution models, Ecography, 2022, (1) Article e05694. ISSN 0906-7590 (2022) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright (2021) The Authors. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License, (, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

DOI: doi:10.1111/ecog.05694


The contributions of species to ecosystem functions or services depend not only on their presence but also on their local abundance. Progress in predictive spatial modelling has largely focused on species occurrence rather than abundance. As such, limited guidance exists on the most reliable methods to explain and predict spatial variation in abundance. We analysed the performance of 68 abundance-based species distribution models fitted to 800 000 standardised abundance records for more than 800 terrestrial bird and reef fish species. We found a large amount of variation in the performance of abundance-based models. While many models performed poorly, a subset of models consistently reconstructed range-wide abundance patterns. The best predictions were obtained using random forests for frequently encountered and abundant species and for predictions within the same environmental domain as model calibration. Extending predictions of species abundance outside of the environmental conditions used in model training generated poor predictions. Thus, interpolation of abundances between observations can help improve understanding of spatial abundance patterns, but our results indicate extrapolated predictions of abundance under changing climate have a much greater uncertainty. Our synthesis provides a road map for modelling abundance patterns, a key property of species distributions that underpins theoretical and applied questions in ecology and conservation.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:abundance-based species distribution model, biodiversity modelling, population density, random forest, species abundance model, species distribution model, systematic conservation planning
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Marine systems and management
Objective Field:Marine biodiversity
UTAS Author:Stuart-Smith, RD (Dr Rick Stuart-Smith)
UTAS Author:Edgar, GJ (Professor Graham Edgar)
ID Code:150892
Year Published:2022
Web of Science® Times Cited:13
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2022-07-04
Last Modified:2022-11-09
Downloads:6 View Download Statistics

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