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Range bagging: a new method for ecological niche modelling from presence-only data.

Abstract

The ecological niche is the set of environments in which a population of a species can persist without introduction of individuals from other locations. A good mathematical or computational representation of the niche is a prerequisite to addressing many questions in ecology, biogeography, evolutionary biology and conservation. A particularly challenging question for ecological niche modelling is the problem of presence-only modelling. That is, can an ecological niche be identified from records drawn only from the set of niche environments without records from non-niche environments for comparison? Here, I introduce a new method for ecological niche modelling from presence-only data called range bagging. Range bagging draws on the concept of a species' environmental range, but was inspired by the empirical performance of ensemble learning algorithms in other areas of ecological research. This paper extends the concept of environmental range to multiple dimensions and shows that range bagging is computationally feasible even when the number of environmental dimensions is large. The target of the range bagging base learner is an environmental tolerance of the species in a projection of its niche and is therefore an ecologically interpretable property of a species' biological requirements. The computational complexity of range bagging is linear in the number of examples, which compares favourably with the main alternative, Qhull. In conclusion, range bagging appears to be a reasonable choice for niche modelling in applications in which a presence-only method is desired and may provide a solution to problems in other disciplines where one-class classification is required, such as outlier detection and concept learning.

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