Maximum entropy modeling of species geographic distributions

Steven J. Phillips, Robert P. Anderson, Robert E. Schapire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12775 Scopus citations


The availability of detailed environmental data, together with inexpensive and powerful computers, has fueled a rapid increase in predictive modeling of species environmental requirements and geographic distributions. For some species, detailed presence/absence occurrence data are available, allowing the use of a variety of standard statistical techniques. However, absence data are not available for most species. In this paper, we introduce the use of the maximum entropy method (Maxent) for modeling species geographic distributions with presence-only data. Maxent is a general-purpose machine learning method with a simple and precise mathematical formulation, and it has a number of aspects that make it well-suited for species distribution modeling. In order to investigate the efficacy of the method, here we perform a continental-scale case study using two Neotropical mammals: a lowland species of sloth, Bradypus variegatus, and a small montane murid rodent, Microryzomys minutus. We compared Maxent predictions with those of a commonly used presence-only modeling method, the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-Set Prediction (GARP). We made predictions on 10 random subsets of the occurrence records for both species, and then used the remaining localities for testing. Both algorithms provided reasonable estimates of the species' range, far superior to the shaded outline maps available in field guides. All models were significantly better than random in both binomial tests of omission and receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analyses. The area under the ROC curve (AUC) was almost always higher for Maxent, indicating better discrimination of suitable versus unsuitable areas for the species. The Maxent modeling approach can be used in its present form for many applications with presence-only datasets, and merits further research and development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-259
Number of pages29
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jan 25 2006
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Ecology


  • Distribution
  • Maximum entropy
  • Modeling
  • Niche
  • Range


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