Guillera-Arroita G, JJ Lahoz-Monfort, J Elith, A Gordon, H Kujala, PE Lentini, MA McCarthy, R Tingley and BA Wintle (2015) Is my species distribution model fit for purpose? Matching data and models to applications. GLOBAL ECOLOGY AND BIOGEOGRAPHY 24:276-292

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Species distribution models (SDMs) are used to inform a range of ecological, biogeographical and conservation applications. However, users often underestimate the strong links between data type, model output and suitability for end-use. We synthesize current knowledge and provide a simple framework that summarizes how interactions between data type and the sampling process (i.e., imperfect detection and sampling bias) determine the quantity that is estimated by an SDM. We then draw upon the published literature and simulations to illustrate and evaluate the information needs of the most common ecological, biogeographical and conservation applications of SDM outputs. We find that, while predictions of models fitted to the most commonly available observation data (presence records) suffice for some applications, others require estimates of occurrence probabilities, which are unattainable without reliable absence records. Our literature review and simulations reveal that, while converting continuous SDM outputs into categories of assumed presence or absence is common practice, it is seldom clearly justified by the application?s objective and it usually degrades inference. Matching SDMs to the needs of particular applications is critical to avoid poor scientific inference and management outcomes. Our paper aims to help modellers and users assess whether their intended SDM outputs are indeed fit for purpose.