Modeling species distributions: methods and applications


Pennino, Maria Grazia

Centro Oceanográfico Murcia
Instituto Español de Oceanografía
San Pedro del Pinatar (Murcia), Spain


Background: Species Distribution Models (SDMs) are now widely used in many research fields for several purposes across terrestrial, freshwater, and marine realms. In all these contexts, the main issue is to link information on the presence/absence or abundance of a species to environmental variables to predict where (and how much of) a species is likely to be present in unsampled locations or time periods. In ecology, SDMs have been implemented in different theoretical and practical cases, including the identification of critical habitats, the study of the risk associated with invasive species, the potential effects of climate change, the design of protected areas and delineation of hot spots of biodiversity and species richness.
Many algorithms of spatial distribution models can be used to predict the distribution of species, however, these algorithms do not always provide accurate results as data can includes a large amount of variability and errors due to multiple factors (errors in the identification of the species, errors in taking the geographical coordinates, etc.). In this context, Bayesian spatial-temporal methods have several advantages over traditional ones, since they provide a more realistic and accurate estimate of uncertainty.

Objective: The general objective of this course is to provide a critical view of the existing techniques of species distribution models with a frequentist and Bayesian approach, discussing their strengths and limitations. At the end of the course, participants will learn about:

1. Formal knowledge about the main statistical approaches relating to SDMs;

2. Specific examples of SDMs with different model algorithms (GAMs, Random Forest, Boosted Regression Trees) using a frequentist approach;

3. An introduction to the Bayesian inference and modeling framework;

4. Specific examples of SDMs using a Bayesian approach.

Programme information: 

Day 1
9.00-9.30: Presentation of the course, professor and participants.
9.30-13.00: Theoretical section
- Species Distribution models (SDMs)
- Spatial data
- Data types and sources
- Modeling algorithms
- Model selection and calibration
14.00-17.00: Practical section
Testing different algorithms of SDMS in R: applied case studies.

Day 2
9.00-13.00: Theoretical section
- Introduction to Bayesian statistics
- Using Bayesian Statistics to approach complex models
- Hierarchical Bayesian models and latent Gaussian models
14.00-17.00: Practical section
- Basic of Bayesian analysis in R.

Day 3
9.00-13.00: Theoretical section
- Species Distribution Models within the Bayesian framework
14.00-17.00: Practical section
- Developing SDMs with hSDM in R.

Day 4
9.00-13.00: Theoretical section
- Species Distribution Models within the Bayesian framework
14.00-17.00: Practical section
- Developing SDMs with INLA in R.

Number of hours: 

24h (14 theoretical and 10 practical)


English, however if all the participants will be Spanish, the course can be taught in Spanish.

Course dates: 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 to Friday, March 2, 2018


9h to 13h and 14h to 17h (includes two coffee breaks)


Institut de Ciències del Mar

Maximum number of places: 


Special requirements: 

Some experience in the computer language R is desirable, and experience with Bayesian statistic is helpful. All participants must bring their own personal laptop.

Contact for further information: 

For additional information, please contact the course coordinator maria.pastor [at]


Full price of this course is 390€. A reduced registration fee of 310€ is applied for early registrations (until February 13). The course fee for ICM/CSIC personnel is 145€. We offer 10% discount if you have attended a Barcelona Ocean course in the past (not applicable to ICM/CSIC rate).

How to register for the course: 

This course is currently full. If you want to be added to the waiting list, please fill in the registration form (link here) and we will contact you if a spot becomes available. Thank you!

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• If you cancel between 3 months and 1 month prior to the start of the course you will receive a full refund minus a 10% administration fee.
• If you cancel between 1 month and 10 working days prior to the start of the course you will receive a 50% refund.
• If you cancel less than 10 working days before the event you will not be entitled to a refund.
There will be no refund for non-attendance to the course.

Cancellations by Barcelona Ocean

Barcelona Ocean courses are constantly updated and, while we endeavour to deliver the courses as advertised, there may inevitably be occasions when we will have to change some of the course contents or one or more of the lecturers without prior notice or, in very exceptional circumstances, to cancel an event.
In the case of a complete course cancellation, attendants will either be offered an alternative date, a credit note or a full refund. Barcelona Ocean will not compensate for travel fees or any other expense incurred by you as a result of such cancellation. Every effort will be made to avoid the cancellation of any planned courses.

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