Model application niche analysis: Assessing the transferability and generalizability of ecological models

Jessica B. Moon, Theodore H. Dewitt, Melissa N. Errend, Randall J.F. Bruins, Mary E. Kentula, Sarah J. Chamberlain, M. Siobhan Fennessy, Kusum J. Naithani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The use of models by ecologists and environmental managers, to inform environmental management and decision-making, has grown exponentially in the past 50 yr. Due to logistical, economical, and theoretical benefits, model users frequently transfer preexisting models to new sites where data are scarce. Modelers have made significant progress in understanding how to improve model generalizability during model development. However, models are always imperfect representations of systems and are constrained by the contextual frameworks used during their development. Thus, model users need better ways to evaluate the possibility of unintentional misapplication when transferring models to new sites. We propose a method of describing a model's application niche for use during the model selection process. Using this method, model users synthesize information from databases, past studies, and/or past model transfers to create model performance curves and heat maps. We demonstrated this method using an empirical model developed to predict the ecological condition of plant communities in riverine wetlands of the Appalachian Highland physiographic region, USA. We assessed this model's transferability and generalizability across (1) riverine wetlands in the contiguous United States, (2) wetland types in the Appalachian Highland physiographic region, and (3) wetland types in the contiguous United States. With this methodology and a discussion of its critical steps, we set the stage for further inquiries into the development of consistent and transparent practices for model selection when transferring a model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number01974
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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