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CHAPTER SIXTEEN Conclusions This book is the result of years of discussion, debate, and exploration among seven authors, each of whom has had a distinct trajectory of research efforts that have led to an interest in species’ niches and distributions. As a consequence , this book represents a consensus, and sometimes détente, of diverse viewpoints and approaches. What we hope we have achieved, nonetheless, is a step toward a comprehensive framework for thinking about the geography and ecology of where species are and are not distributed. Our central idea in this book, particularly looking back over the years of discussion and development that it has required of us, is that a firm conceptual framework is critical to further progress in this field. Indeed, in some senses, we believe that an appropriate conceptual framework will prove more important than choosing the best and most accurate modeling algorithms—rather, we suspect that more inaccuracy is introduced into results from incorrect assumptions and nonrepresentative samples. We hope that this book offers a synthesis that provides a firm conceptual foundation for varied work in the field of niches and distributions. A source of consternation to some to whom we have presented these ideas is our rather radical reworking of traditional concepts in ecology. In reality, we attempted whenever possible not to abandon the classical framework of the ideas of Hutchinson and MacArthur, but several key points were not treated sufficiently by them. In those cases, it has been necessary to revisit concepts, rework nomenclature, and add concepts to clarify. We suspect that the added detail that we have perceived is perceptible chiefly because new data and software tools exist that the previous generations of ecologists and biogeographers did not have available. Regardless, we have attempted to link our new concepts to the preceding suite of concepts, such that the lineage of thinking and discussion is not lost. Clearly, however, much more work is needed in this field. The preceding pages that constitute this book are replete with unfinished thinking, incomplete development, and challenges for future work. Such is, we believe, the situation when a field of great promise is nonetheless only a decade or two old. Major CONCLUSIONS 257 challenges that we perceive include (1) full integration of the BAM framework with central concepts of population biology and statistical theory; (2) greater methodological clarity regarding model evaluation in relation to the specific quantitites (niches and distributions) being estimated; (3) better clarity in thinking regarding niche conservatism versus evolution as regards scenopoetic versus bionomic environmental dimensions; and (4) much-improved linkage between correlational and mechanistic approaches to estimating and understanding ecological niches. Each of these realms represents a major suite of challenges that requires integration of careful conceptual thinking with detailed empirical exploration—we hope that this book will open doors to such concrete advances. More generally, we perceive that the syntheses that we present in this book had not been achieved previously owing to the tendency toward reductionism in organismal biology. Ecologists, biogeographers, and evolutionary biologists were not “talking to” one another sufficiently in recent decades, and as a consequence did not explore these areas of overlapping interest in sufficient detail. Ecological niche modeling offers an exciting suite of novel tools that have already proven to be of interest across disciplines—the further growth and maturation of this field will require conceptual linkages that can come only from integrated thinking across scales ranging from the ecological to the biogeographic . Such advances will, we hope, be increasingly feasible as a common language and conceptual framework are presented (as we have attempted to do) and adopted as a platform for cross-disciplinary discussions, debates, and syntheses. ...


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