Aim To review some of the applications in ecology and conservation biogeography of datasets derived from atlas projects. We discuss data applications and data quality issues and suggest ways in which atlas data could be improved.
Location Southern Africa and worldwide.
Methods Atlas projects are broadly defined as collections or syntheses of original, spatially explicit data on species occurrences. We review uses of atlas datasets and discuss data quality issues using examples from atlas projects in southern Africa and worldwide.
Results Atlas projects must cope with tradeoffs between data quality and quantity, standardization of sampling methods, quantification of sampling effort, and mismatches in skills and expectations between data collectors and data users. The most useful atlases have a good measure of sampling effort; include data collected at a fine enough resolution to link to habitat variables of potential interest; have a sufficiently large sample size to work with in a multivariate context; and offer clear, quantitative indications of the quality of each record to allow for the needs of users who have specific demands for high-quality data.
Main conclusions Atlases have an important role to play in biodiversity conservation and ideally should aim to offer reliable, high quality data that can withstand public, scientific and legal scrutiny.