Araújo et al. have published a response to our piece ‘Species distribution models are inappropriate for COVID-19’1 entitled ‘Ecological and epidemiological models are both useful for SARS-CoV-2’2, in which they defend the idea that ecological models are likely to identify the signature of climate drivers in the R0 of COVID-19 transmission.
Species distribution models are a powerful tool for ecological inference, but not every use is biologically justified. Applying these tools to the COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to yield new insights, and could mislead policymakers at a critical moment.
The ongoing pandemic of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is causing significant damage to public health and economic livelihoods, and is putting significant strains on healthcare services globally. This unfolding emergency has prompted the preparation and dissemination of the article “Spread of SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus likely to be constrained by climate” by Araújo and Naimi (2020). The authors present the results of an ensemble forecast made from a suite of species distribution models (SDMs), where they attempt to predict the suitability of the climate for the spread of SARS-CoV-2 over the coming months. They argue that climate is likely to be a primary regulator for the spread of the infection and that people in warm-temperate and cold climates are more vulnerable than those in tropical and arid climates. A central finding of their study is that the possibility of a synchronous global pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 is unlikely. Whilst we understand that the motivations behind producing such work are grounded in trying to be helpful, we demonstrate here that there are clear conceptual and methodological deficiencies with their study that render their results and conclusions invalid.