Landscape Ecology

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 1195–1208 | Cite as

The scaling of geographic ranges: implications for species distribution models

  • Charles B. Yackulic
  • Joshua R. Ginsberg
Research Article



The geographic ranges of many species are responding to ongoing environmental change. Processes operating at different levels of biological organization, with corresponding spatial extents and grains and temporal rates, interact with the evolving configuration of environmental conditions to determine range dynamics.


To synthesize understanding of scales and scaling, including relevant biological levels of organization, focusing on the processes that mediate species-environment relationships and the models used to make inferences about species distributions.


We review concepts related to the scaling of geographic ranges and implications for the most commonly used analytic methods, using simple simulations to illustrate important issues.


Many processes lead to species distributions being dependent on environmental conditions within sites and within a neighborhood. Studies with large extents and fine grains can cut across several levels of biological organization (individual, within-population, and metapopulation processes) complicating interpretation. Many geographic ranges are not in dynamic equilibrium, but common models used for inference assume equilibrium. Interspecific interactions shape species distributions at multiple scales, and arguments for ignoring species interactions also assume equilibrium.


There is a need for timely science to inform policy and management decisions; however, we must also strive to provide predictions that best reflect our understanding of ecological systems. Species distributions evolve through time and reflect responses to environmental conditions that are mediated through individual and population processes. Species distribution models that reflect this understanding, and explicitly model dynamics, are likely to give more accurate predictions.


Climate change Disequilibrium Dynamic Landscape Metapopulation Niche Occupancy  Temporal rates 



We thank S. Vanderkooi and J.D. Nichols and two anonymous reviewers for suggestions based on earlier drafts. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Supplementary material

10980_2015_333_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (outside the USA) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.U.S. Geological Survey, Southwest Biological Science CenterGrand Canyon Monitoring and Research CenterFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA

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