MaxEnt's parameter configuration and small samples: Are we paying attention to recommendations? A systematic review

Narkis S. Morales, Ignacio C. Fernández, Victoria Baca-González

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

296 Scopus citations


Environmental niche modeling (ENM) is commonly used to develop probabilistic maps of species distribution. Among available ENM techniques, MaxEnt has become one of the most popular tools for modeling species distribution, with hundreds of peerreviewed articles published each year. MaxEnt's popularity is mainly due to the use of a graphical interface and automatic parameter configuration capabilities. However, recent studies have shown that using the default automatic configuration may not be always appropriate because it can produce non-optimal models; particularly when dealing with a small number of species presence points. Thus, the recommendation is to evaluate the best potential combination of parameters (feature classes and regularization multiplier) to select the most appropriate model. In this work we reviewed 244 articles published between 2013 and 2015 to assess whether researchers are following recommendations to avoid using the default parameter configuration when dealing with small sample sizes, or if they are using MaxEnt as a ''black box tool.'' Our results show that in only 16% of analyzed articles authors evaluated best feature classes, in 6.9% evaluated best regularization multipliers, and in a meager 3.7% evaluated simultaneously both parameters before producing the definitive distribution model. We analyzed 20 articles to quantify the potential differences in resulting outputs when using software default parameters instead of the alternative best model. Results from our analysis reveal important differences between the use of default parameters and the best model approach, especially in the total area identified as suitable for the assessed species and the specific areas that are identified as suitable by both modelling approaches. These results are worrying, because publications are potentially reporting over-complex or over-simplistic models that can undermine the applicability of their results. Of particular importance are studies used to inform policy making. Therefore, researchers, practitioners, reviewers and editors need to be very judicious when dealing with MaxEnt, particularly when the modelling process is based on small sample sizes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3093
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Auto-features
  • Environmental niche modelling
  • Maximum entropy
  • Parameters configuration
  • Regularization multiplier
  • Species distribution
  • User-defined features


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