A comparison of approaches for modelling the occurrence of marine animals

Colin D MacLeod, Laura Mandleberg, Caroline Schweder, Sarah Margaret Bannon, Graham John Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Citations (Scopus)


Approaches for modelling the distribution of animals in relation to their environment can be divided into two basic types, those which use records of absence as well as records of presence and those which use only presence records. For terrestrial species, presence-absence approaches have been found to produce models with greater predictive ability than presence-only approaches. This study compared the predictive ability of both approaches for a marine animal, the harbour porpoise (Phoceoena phocoena). Using data on the occurrence of harbour porpoises in the Sea of Hebrides, Scotland, the predictive abilities of one presence-absence approach (generalised linear modelling-GLM) and three presence-only approaches (Principal component analysis-PCA, ecological niche factor analysis-ENFA and genetic algorithm for rule-set prediction-GARP) were compared. When the predictive ability of the models was assessed using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) plots, the presence-absence approach (GLM) was found to have the greatest predictive ability. However, all approaches were found to produce models that predicted occurrence significantly better than a random model and the GLM model did not perform significantly better than ENFA and GARP. The PCA had a significantly lower predictive ability than GLM but not the other approaches. In addition, all models predicted a similar spatial distribution. Therefore, while models constructed using presence-absence approaches are likely to provide the best understanding of species distribution within a surveyed area, presence-only models can perform almost as well. However, careful consideration of the potential limitations and biases in the data, especially with regards to representativeness, is needed if the results of presence-only models are to be used for conservation and/or management purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-32
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


  • species distribution modelling
  • marine species
  • harbour porpoise
  • GLM
  • ENFA
  • GARP
  • habitat-suitability
  • minke whales
  • conservation
  • topography
  • distributions
  • prediction
  • Scotland
  • climate
  • absence
  • aerial
  • Species distribution modelling
  • Marine species
  • Harbour porpoise
  • GLM
  • ENFA
  • GARP


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