distribution maps

Gerald Noonan carabid at MPM.EDU
Wed Apr 12 09:54:21 CDT 2000

         I strongly recommend ArcView. This is a powerful but easy to learn
GIS program. The makers of ArcView, ESRI, sell a separate tutorial "Getting
to know ArcView" that includes a CD ROM with exercises and a manual
profusely illustrated with excellent color figures. Student interns who use
the tutorial typically take approximately 8 hours to learn all features of
the program including its powerful analyses. People interested in only
making distribution maps typically take much less time to learn the
program. Several staff have learned to use the program mapping features
with a short tutorial that comes with it.
         My museum has a site license for ArcView that includes a large
quantity of digital maps at different resolutions. We also have a license
for the ESRI ArcAtlas CD ROM. This CD ROM has very useful maps of climate
regions, vegetation zones, soil types, etc. Depending on the nature of your
work, you might want to examine the distribution of your organisms relative
to such factors. Your university may already have an institution wide site
license for ESRI products including ArcView. The Company provides its
products at relatively low prices to educational institutions. The site
license costs for a university is I believe several thousand dollars
because of the hundreds or thousands of potential users at such an
institution and the fact that such a license typically includes many
different ESRI products such as ArcInfo -- a GIS program more difficult to
learn. Museums are eligible for the K-12 license program in which ArcView
and accompanying data cost only a few hundred dollars. the K-12 license is
an incredible bargain when compared to the commercial costs of ArcView and
all the data that come with the K-12 license.
         A benefit of using a full feature GIS program such as ArcView is
that you can initially learn just what you need to make the distribution
maps. Later if you decide to use its analysis features, you will have
already learned basic operations in the program and will find it relatively
easy to master the analyses. For an example of the analyses that may be
done with the program and some maps see: Noonan, 1999. GIS analysis of the
biogeography of beetles of the subgenus Anisodactylus (Insecta: Coleoptera:
Carabidae: genus Anisodactylus. Journal of Biogeography, 26: 1147-1160.
         If you select a program that can only produce distribution maps
and later become interested in geographic analyses, you'll have to purchase
a different program such as ArcView and learn how to use it.
         With digital maps coastlines will sometimes have a slightly jagged
appearance. This is because when you print a map showing a large region
such as a continent, the many indentations found in a coastline because of
inlets, peninsulas, etc. become reduced to short jagged lines at that
magnification. I find that I can control the appearance quite
satisfactorily by changing the thickness of the lines used to draw the
         Another worker suggested in a Taxacom e-mail that it is not
possible in ArcView to make maps of desired regions such as the Pacific and
India Oceans. Actually it is quite possible to make such maps very easily.
The method of doing this is to change the projection being used to a custom
one and then specify appropriate meridians or other parameters appropriate
for the projection and the desired geographic region. The map will then be
centered on the desired region. It is then very easy when producing final
figures to cover up with white polygons any areas of the world that you did
not want to print. You can also exclude regions from printing by defining
your print page so that they are not on it. Changing the projection to a
custom one involves just a few mouse clicks. I've found that getting
ArcView to center in on a desired region is done by first reading the help
file for a given projection and then experimentally changing settings to
see what the map looks like. It doesn't take very long to find a setting
that meets my needs.
         Hope this information helps you in selecting the program the best
meets your needs.

At 08:58 AM 4/11/2000 -0500, Aysha Prather wrote:
>I know this subject has been addressed before, but I think it could do with
>a revisit.
>We would like to know what software people recommend for producing
>distribution maps. The features we are most interested in are:
>--availability of maps (i.e. are all world regions mapped and on what scale?)
>--map quality (how good does the map look when printed out?)
>--map features (e.g. political boundaries, relief, rivers and streams)
>--ease of use (can a Mac user produce a distribution map without taking a
>special course?)
>--(and maybe this relates to ease of use) integration with other
>applications (e.g. Biota)
>Thanks in advance for all suggestions.
>Aysha Prather
>prath003 at tc.umn.edu
>University of Minnesota Insect Collection

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