Here we draw attention to an emerging subdiscipline of artificial intelligence, explainable AI (xAI), as a toolbox for better interpreting SDMs. xAI aims at deciphering the behavior of complex statistical or machine learning models (e.g. neural networks, random forests, boosted regression trees), and can produce more transparent and understandable SDM predictions.
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.
The goals of this study are to provide a map of actual habitat suitability (1), describe the relationships between abiotic predictors and the saguaro distribution at regional extents (2), and describe the potential effect of climate change on the spatial distribution of the saguaro (3).
Here we investigated the demographic history of the willow grouse (Lagopus lagopus), rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), and black grouse (Tetrao tetrix) through the Late Pleistocene using two complementary methods and whole genome data. Species distribution modeling (SDM) allowed us to estimate the total range size during the Last Interglacial (LIG) and Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) as well as to indicate potential population subdivisions.
This paper [was highlighted in the *Editor's Picks* section of the Science Journal](https://www.dropbox.com/s/6k308eczv7i6kbj/2017_BMB_Journal_of_Biogeography_editors_choice.pdf?dl=1), and was among the [top downloaded articles](https://www.dropbox.com/s/sowq1h4bdngmipy/2017_BMB_Journal_of_Biogeography.png?dl=1) from the *Journal of Biogeography* during the 12 months after its publication.
Our results are inconsistent with the claim that climatic constraint and/or a lack of suitable habitats can fully explain the absence of Neanderthals in Southern Scandinavia during the Eemian Interglacial and Early Weichselian Glaciation. We do, however, find evidence that a geographic barrier may have impeded northerly migrations during the Eemian.
We had three key findings. First, dry forest is the least protected biome in Mesoamerica (4.5% protected), indicating that further action to safeguard this biome is warranted. Secondly, the poor overlap between protected areas and high-value forest conservation areas found herein may provide evidence that the establishment of protected areas may not be fully accounting for tree priority rank map. Third, high percentages of forest cover and high-value forest conservation areas still need to be represented by the protected areas network. Because deforestation rates are still increasing in this region, Mesoamerica needs funding and coordinated action by policy makers, national and local governmental and non-governmental organizations, conservationists and other stakeholders.