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openModeller: a generic approach to species’ potential distribution modelling


Species’ potential distribution modelling is the process of building a representation of the fundamental ecological requirements for a species and extrapolating these requirements into a geographical region. The importance of being able to predict the distribution of species is currently highlighted by issues like global climate change, public health problems caused by disease vectors, anthropogenic impacts that can lead to massive species extinction, among other challenges. There are several computational approaches that can be used to generate potential distribution models, each achieving optimal results under different conditions. However, the existing software packages available for this purpose typically implement a single algorithm, and each software package presents a new learning curve to the user. Whenever new software is developed for species’ potential distribution modelling, significant duplication of effort results because many feature requirements are shared between the different packages. Additionally, data preparation and comparison between algorithms becomes difficult when using separate software applications, since each application has different data input and output capabilities. This paper describes a generic approach for building a single computing framework capable of handling different data formats and multiple algorithms that can be used in potential distribution modelling. The ideas described in this paper have been implemented in a free and open source software package called openModeller. The main concepts of species’ potential distribution modelling are also explained and an example use case illustrates potential distribution maps generated by the framework.

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The openModeller framework was originally developed by CRIA with support from FAPESP during the speciesLink project. After being released as a free and open source software package, other projects and institutions started to collaborate. The University of Kansas Natural History Museum & Biodiversity Research Center, the University of Reading and also individual contributors helped to significantly further develop the framework. In the beginning of 2005, openModeller received additional support from FAPESP as part of a new thematic project to be carried out by three Brazilian institutions: CRIA, INPE and Poli/USP.

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Correspondence to Renato De Giovanni.

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de Souza Muñoz, M.E., De Giovanni, R., de Siqueira, M.F. et al. openModeller: a generic approach to species’ potential distribution modelling. Geoinformatica 15, 111–135 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10707-009-0090-7

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  • Potential distribution modelling
  • Ecological niche modelling
  • Predicting species distribution
  • openModeller