ciations between a species and its environment and have described the data requirements and the information content and potential applications of results (Scott et al. 2002; Elith et al. 2006; Franklin 2009; Royle et al. 2012). For example, resource-selection functions (Boyce et al. 2002; Manly et al. 2010) and occupancy models (MacKenzie et al. 2006) are among the diverse statistical methods that characterize habitat quality by relating data on the distribution or demography of a species to abiotic and biotic attributes of its environment. Regardless of method, the size of a species’ range, and the specificity of its resource requirements, greater access to and reliability of geospatial data have made it easier to delineate and characterize habitat and habitat quality for a given species in space and time. The data also have improved the ability to model chemical fate and potential exposure of organisms. Horning et al. (2010) have presented a comprehensive, easily understood review of data sources and methods for application of remotely sensed data (data on an environmental feature that are not collected by physical contact with the feature) to ecological analyses.
Many caveats are associated with projections of habitat location and distributions of species. For example, most models of species distributions describe a statistical relationship between detections of an organism and elements of its habitat. The models tend to assume implicitly that species-environment relationships are stable—an assumption that might not be valid if habitat is currently unoccupied (Wiens et al. 2009) or if climate, land cover, or land use change (Araújo and Pearson 2005; Sinclair et al. 2010). Moreover, models of species distributions do not allow one to project species occurrence reliably in areas or periods in which environmental conditions are unsampled or otherwise unknown. Uncertainties increase if environmental data and species data were not collected in the same locations or during the same period. In addition, correlative models of species distributions do not account for phenotypic plasticity and adaptive evolution and therefore might overestimate reductions in range size in response to environmental change (Pearson and Dawson 2003; Skelly et al. 2007; Schwartz 2012).2
The level of uncertainty associated with a species’ range and distribution and with delineation of its habitat is strongly affected by uncertainty in the data on species occurrence.3 Ideally, data on occurrence are gathered over many years, in many locations that span the range of values of major environmental gradients, and with a sampling design that reflects the biology of the species.
2Phenotypic plasticity is defined as modifications of behavior, appearance, or physiology of individuals in response to environmental change, and adaptive evolution is defined as heritable genetic changes that affect individual phenotypes and increase probabilities of population or species persistence.
3Range is defined as the total extent of the area occupied by a species or the geographic limits within which it occurs, and distribution is defined as the areas in which a species is projected to occur on the basis of modeled associations with environmental attributes.