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A comparison of methods for mapping species ranges and species richness


  • Catherine H. Graham,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology and Evolution, 650 Life Sciences Building, State University of New York at Stony Brook, NY 11794-5245, USA, and
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  • Robert J. Hijmans

    1. Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, 3101 Valley Life Sciences Building, Berkeley, CA 94720,USA
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*Correspondence: Catherine Graham, Department of Ecology and Evolution, 650 Life Sciences Building, State University of New York at Stony Brook, NY 11794-5245, USA. E-mail:


Aim  Maps of species richness are the basis for applied research and conservation planning as well as for theoretical research investigating patterns of richness and the processes shaping these patterns. The method used to create a richness map could influence the results of such studies, but differences between these methods have been insufficiently evaluated. We investigate how different methods of mapping species ranges can influence patterns of richness, at three spatial resolutions.

Location  California, USA.

Methods  We created richness maps by overlaying individual species range maps for terrestrial amphibians and reptiles. The methods we used to create ranges included: point-to-grid maps, obtained by overlaying point observations of species occurrences with a grid and determining presence or absence for each cell; expert-drawn maps; and maps obtained through species distribution modelling. We also used a hybrid method that incorporated data from all three methods. We assessed the correlation and similarity of the spatial patterns of richness maps created with each of these four methods at three different resolutions.

Results  Richness maps created with different methods were more correlated at lower spatial resolutions than at higher resolutions. At all resolutions, point-to-grid richness maps estimated the lowest species richness and those derived from species distribution models the highest. Expert-drawn maps and hybrid maps showed intermediate levels of richness but had different spatial patterns of species richness from those derived with the other methods.

Main conclusions  Even in relatively well-studied areas such as California, different data sources can lead to rather dissimilar maps of species richness. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of different methods for creating a richness map can provide guidance for selecting the approach that is most appropriate for a given application and region.