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Mapping and monitoring terrestrial biodiversity using geographic information systems

Frank W. Davis

Location in space and time are attributes of nearly all biodiversity data. Obvious examples include species' collection localities, range maps and habitat maps. Geographic Information Systems for managing and analyzing spatial data are rapidly becoming an integral tool for scientists, resource managers and policy makers concerned with biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. Database capabilities of GIS have extended the traditional map to a much more flexible and powerful representation of spatial information by allowing potentially large amounts of non-graphical information to be attached to each map unit. Biologists have yet to fully exploit this aspect of GIS in classification and mapping of biodiversity patterns. Some advantages of the GIS model over traditional maps are illustrated with a vegetation mapping project in southern California.

In recent years GIS has been applied to a wide range of biodiversity issues, for example, modeling species distributions, Gap Analysis, population viability analysis, modeling ecosystem disturbance processes, and projecting the ecological impacts of global climate change. Specimen data can be of much greater use in conservation planning when coupled to predictive habitat relationship models and accurate habitat maps. The use of GIS to assemble multiple lines of evidence in modeling species' distribution is illustrated for Cnemidophorus hyperythrus, an endangered lizard of coastal southern California. Lastly, an example is provided of the application of GIS modeling of habitat suitability and connectivity to conservation planning in southern California.

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