Species distribution modelling has its origin in the late 1970s when computing capacity was limited. Early work in the field concentrated mostly on the development of methods to model effectively the shape of a species' response to environmental gradients (Austin 1987, Austin et al. 1990). The methodology and its framework were summarized in reviews 10–15 yr ago (Franklin 1995, Guisan and Zimmermann 2000), and these syntheses are still widely used as reference landmarks in the current distribution modelling literature. However, enormous advancements have occurred over the last decade, with hundreds – if not thousands – of publications on species distribution model (SDM) methodologies and their application to a broad set of conservation, ecological and evolutionary questions. With this special issue, originating from the third of a set of specialized SDM workshops (2008 Riederalp) entitled 'The Utility of Species Distribution Models as Tools for Conservation Ecology', we reflect on current trends and the progress achieved over the last decade.