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NIMBioS Tutorial: Applications of Spatial Data

Ecological Niche Modeling

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Topic: Applications of Spatial Data: Ecological Niche Modeling

Meeting dates: December 3-5, 2018

Location: NIMBioS at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Mona Papeş, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Spatial Analysis Lab at NIMBioS, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville
Greg Wiggins, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Coordinator

Objectives: The distribution of a species may be influenced by an array of factors. The set of conditions that allow a species to exist in a geographic area is a representation of the species ecological niche. However, defining these conditions is difficult, due to the complexity of natural systems. One approach to characterizing the ecological niche uses spatial data, GIS software, and modeling algorithms. The objectives of this tutorial were to teach participants the concepts of ecological niche modeling, introduce them to select analytical techniques (formatting GIS data; running maximum entropy – MaxEnt – models) and present how to interpret and apply spatial analyses. Participants were familiarized with several commonly-used and newly-available online spatial data resources. Instructors provided datasets to use in hands-on simulations, but participants could also bring their own data if desired. Applications of ecological niche modeling covered in this tutorial included biogeography, conservation biology, disease ecology, macroecology, and invasion biology.

This tutorial was a repeat of the NIMBioS tutorial offered May 16-18, 2018.

Intended audience. This tutorial was intended for advanced graduate students, postdocs, and faculty interested in learning how to incorporate ecological niche modeling into their research. In order to qualify for this tutorial, participants needed a basic knowledge of GIS (ArcGIS, QGIS or R packages). Little to no programming was involved, with ecological niche modeling and spatial analysis conducted using existing applications (MaxEnt) and packages in ArcGIS and R.


  • Mona Papeş, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Spatial Analysis Lab at NIMBioS, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Town Peterson, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity Institute, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
  • Xiao Feng, Institute of the Environment, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
  • Luis Escobar, Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

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Evaluation Report


Summary Report. TBA

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Applications of Spatial Data WordPress site

The Tutorial was streamed live. A playlist of recorded presentations will be posted here when available.

A goal of NIMBioS is to enhance the cadre of researchers capable of interdisciplinary efforts across mathematics and biology. As part of this goal, NIMBioS is committed to promoting diversity in all its activities. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, career stage, geography and type of home institution. Questions regarding diversity issues should be directed to You can read more about our Diversity Plan on our NIMBioS Policies web page. The NIMBioS building is fully handicapped accessible.

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From 2008 until early 2021, NIMBioS was supported by the National Science Foundation through NSF Award #DBI-1300426, with additional support from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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