software for distribution-maps

Gerald R. Noonan carabid at MPM.EDU
Mon Dec 2 11:10:45 CST 2002

        I am in the process of completing final editing revisions on my 92
page manuscript that reviews the use of GIS technology by entomologists. The
manuscript includes more than 400 references, has a detailed section about
the different types of data available, including much free data, and has an
appendix that describes GIS programs used by entomologists.  When the
article is published, I'll post a notice to Taxacom. It will soon be
submitted to the new electronic publication series of the Milwaukee Public
Museum Contributions in Biology and Geology.

        If at all possible you should probably try to get a full-fledged GIS
programs such as ArcView. Such a program is relatively easy to learn as
regards simple functions such as making maps. If later you decide to do GIS
based biogeographic or ecological analyses, you will already be familiar
with basic functions of the GIS program.
        Data used in GIS programs are typically into different formats,
raster and vector data. In the vector data format geographic features are
delineated by points, lines or curves (ordered series of points), and areas.
Polygons or areas For example, a road or political boundary is a line. A
major advantage of vector format data is that it can be used to produce
attractive looking maps that closely resemble hand drawn maps.

In the raster data format geographic objects are defined by a grid-cell data
structure with the geographic area divided into cells identified by row and
column. Each grid cell is referenced by a unique coordinate system. The size
of the cells is selected according to the data accuracy and the resolution
needed by the user.  In raster data, a point is represented by an individual
cell. A linear feature such as a road consists of a linear series of cells
with the same value. A polygon comprises a region of cells with the same
value. Raster format data are best for certain types of advanced GIS based
analyses. They usually do not to as good a job of producing maps with a
linear feature such as political boundaries, collecting sites, continental
boundaries, boundaries of lakes, etc.

For your work in making maps I think you want to be sure that whatever
program you select does a very good job of handling vector data. Products
made by ESRI are heavily used by people in the natural sciences. I have made
extensive use of ArcView for several years including using it to produce
maps. Below I have pasted in  sections from an appendix in my manuscript
that provides information about major GIS programs used by entomologists.
The three sections pasted in below provide information about ArcInfo and
ArcView, GRASS and MapInfo. I haven't used GIS programs other than ArcView
and Atlas GIS (Atlas GIS was purchased by ESRI and is being phased out). The
information below about GRASS and MapInfo is from reviews of the software
and from company Web sites.
        If you are at a larger institution that has an information services
or computer department, you might want to check to be sure that your
institution doesn't already have site licenses for one or more GIS programs.
If you decide to purchase a commercial GIS program, I would recommend
ArcView because it's easy to learn and heavily used by people in the natural
sciences. ESRI has a very attractive K-12 package for schools and nonprofit
organizations (such as museums) in the United States. I don't know for
program extends to other countries. Of course the free GRASS program has a
price that can be beat. I'm not sure how easy it is without program to
produce high-quality maps -- perhaps some users of GRASS could comment.
        There are other mainline GIS programs but they seem to mainly
concentrate on handling raster data and probably would not be the best
choice for your needs. Good luck with your work.

ArcInfo and ArcView
Current version: 8.2, with version 8.3 to be soon released.
Software Platforms: Microsoft Windows (NT 4.0 [with Service Pack 6a], 2000
or XP [Home Edition and Professional]; ArcInfo Workstation can also run on a
variety of UNIX platforms.
Company: ESRI.
Description: ArcInfo and ArcView were formerly separate programs with
different inter-faces. The release of version 8.1 of ArcGIS provided a
common graphics interface for these programs and ArcEditor on Windows-based
desktop computers. ArcView is now the base program in the ArcGIS line. It
provides basic GIS functions such as the ability to map or visualize spatial
data, to perform queries and analyses, to inte-grate different types of
data, and to create and edit spatial data. ArcEditor has all the
functionality of ArcView and adds the power to edit features in a multi-user
geoda-tabase. ArcInfo has all the functionality of the previous two modules
along with ad-vanced geoprocessing and data conversion capabilities. ArcInfo
Workstation has the classic user interface of ArcInfo and operates on
Windows NT, Windows 2000, and several UNIX platforms. All three modules are
vector-based programs. The Spatial Analyst extension provides a broad range
of tools for creating, querying, mapping, and analyzing cell based raster
data. Eleven additional extensions provide enhanced features for all three
of the programs.

Current version: GRASS 5.0.
Platforms: DEC-Alpha; HP-UX; Linux; Mac OS X; Silicon Graphics Irix; Sun
Solaris; Windows NT/2000/XP (using Cygwin tools).
Company: GRASS was developed by the U.S. Army Construction Engineering
Research laboratories (USA-CERL, 1982-1995), a branch of the U.S. Army Corp
of Engi-neers. It is free software released under GNU General Public License
(GPL) and is undergoing continuous improvement through a multinational team
of developers. The official GRASS homepage is at The Internet site has many GRASS associated links.
Description: GRASS has raster, topological vector, image processing, and
graphics abili-ties. All analyses and modeling are done with raster maps.
Utilities make it easy to convert from one data format to another. GRASS
operates on various platforms through a graphical user interface and shell
in X-Windows. It is one of the few full-featured GIS programs available for
Macintosh computers (open source code at; commercial version at

Current version: 7.0.
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (XP [Professional and Home], 2000, NT (+ SP6),
Win-dows 98).
Company: MapInfo.
Description: This moderately powerful vector based GIS program can also
display raster data. It offers a relatively easy to use mapping package and
some analytical exten-sions. MapInfo is seen outside the GIS community as a
mainstream business tool for analyzing and displaying data. Information for
this description is from the company's Web site and reviews by Barr (2001a,
2001b) and Carlson et al. (2001).

Gerald R. Noonan Ph.D.
Curator of Insects
Milwaukee Public Museum
800 West Wells Street
Milwaukee WI 53233
e-mail: carabid at
office telephone: (414) 278-2762
fax: (414) 278-6100
WWW homepage:

-----Original Message-----
From: Torbjörn Tyler [mailto:Torbjorn.Tyler at SYSBOT.LU.SE]
Sent: Friday, November 29, 2002 2:34 AM
Subject: software for distribution-maps


Is there anyone out there who know about any compter program (for PC or Mac)
that is particularily useful in constructing distribution-maps? I am used to
doing this by scanning a suitable background-map and drawing dots on it by a
conventional drawing program. When I have geographical coordinates (which is
far from always the case) I have tried to use a calculation program to make
a scatter-plot with dots that can be superimposed on my scanned map, but
this only works on a map-projection with right angels (i.e. assuming a flat

How do people make distribution-map these days?  I guess there are many
different practices but I would be interested in knowing them all because I
plan to draw some 1000 maps in the near future...

Torbjörn Tyler


Torbjörn Tyler   /  Projekt Skånes Flora

Department of Ecology
Systematic Botany
Ecology Building
Sölvegatan 37
SE-223 62 Lund

tel. +(0)46-222 09 10
fax + (0)46-222 44 23
e-mail: torbjorn.tyler at

Private address: Bredgatan 12B, SE-243 32 Höör (=Hoeoer), tel.

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