Abstract The area under the curve (AUC) of the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) has become a dominant tool in evaluating the accuracy of models predicting distributions of species. ROC has the advantage of being threshold-independent, and as such does not require decisions regarding thresholds of what constitutes a prediction of presence versus a prediction of absence. However, we show that, comparing two ROCs, using the AUC systematically undervalues models that do not provide predictions across the entire spectrum of proportional areas in the study area. Current ROC approaches in ecological niche modeling applications are also inappropriate because the two error components are weighted equally. We recommend a modification of ROC that remedies these problems, using partial-area ROC approaches to provide a firmer foundation for evaluation of predictions from ecological niche models. A worked example demonstrates that models that are evaluated favorably by traditional ROC AUCs are not necessarily the best when niche modeling considerations are incorporated into the design of the test.