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Toward a Monte Carlo approach to selecting climate variables in MaxEnt: A case study using Cassin’s Sparrow (Peucaea cassinii)

By John L. Schnase, Mark L. Carroll, Roger L. Gill, Glenn S. Tamkin, Jian Li, Savannah L. Strong, Thomas P. Maxwell, Mary E. Aronne

Posted 15 Jul 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.07.15.202945

MaxEnt is an important aid in understanding the influence of climate change on species distributions and abundance. There is growing interest in using IPCC-class global climate model outputs as environmental predictors in this work. These models provide realistic, global representations of the climate system, projections for hundreds of variables (including Essential Climate Variables), and combine observations from an array of satellite, airborne, and in-situ sensors. Unfortunately, direct use of this important class of data in MaxEnt modeling has been limited by the large size of climate model output collections and the fact that MaxEnt can only operate on a relatively small set of predictors stored in a computer's main memory. In this study, we demonstrate the feasibility of a Monte Carlo method that overcomes this limitation by finding a useful subset of predictors in a larger, externally-stored collection of environmental variables in a reasonable amount of time. Our proposed solution takes an ensemble approach wherein many MaxEnt runs, each drawing on a small random subset of variables, converges on a global estimate of the top contributing subset of variables in the larger collection. In preliminary tests, the Monte Carlo approach selected a consistent set of top six variables within 540 runs, with the four most contributory variables of the top six accounting for approximately 93% of overall permutation importance in the final model. These results suggest that a Monte Carlo approach could offer a viable means of selecting environmental predictors for MaxEnt models that is amenable to parallelization and scalable to very large data sets. This point to the possibility of near-real-time multiprocessor implementations that could enable broader and more exploratory use of global climate model outputs in environmental niche modeling and aid in the discovery of viable predictors. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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