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CHAPTER ONE Introduction The fields of historical biogeography and ecological biogeography have long been paradoxically disparate and distant from one another, with different terminologies , different concepts, and almost nonoverlapping sets of researchers. Ecological biogeography focuses on spatial pattern in the composition and functioning of ecological communities, while historical biogeography attempts to reconstruct the history of areas and their biotas.Although some recent steps have narrowed gaps a bit, the two fields have long been quite distinct and disconnected , and spatial understanding of biodiversity has suffered as a consequence. Differences between the two biogeographies are manifold: certainly, spatial scale is an important one, with most of ecological biogeography focusing at regional scales and most of historical biogeography at continental or even global scales. Another important difference is in treatment of temporal dimensions, with ecological biogeography focused chiefly over time spans that are geologically instantaneous (i.e., in the present), but historical biogeography looking from the present back over evolutionary time, sometimes many millions of years. Although not without significant exceptions (e.g., MacArthur 1972), these homonymous fields both have important insights to offer regarding the geography of biodiversity, yet have developed in large part independently until quite recently. In recent years, however, an emerging body of work has begun to bridge between the two, building toward a more synthetic biogeography. Ecologists looking over broader spatial extents and into history, and systematists thinking about environmental dimensions and interactions among species, have come to understand that species’ distributions are a function of phenomena from both realms. Detailed thinking regarding areas of distribution has also provided a fascinating reawakening of interest in another classic concept, that of the ecological niche. In effect, understanding areas of distribution of species in terms of their ecological requirements across multiple scales of space and time has provided an arena for a meeting of these two disparate disciplines. The impressive impact on both fields of just the first few years of this interaction suggests that their integration will have a bright future. 2 CHAPTER 1 PRACTICALITIES The past few years have witnessed substantial increases in availability of species ’ occurrence data, also termed “primary biodiversity data” or “presence data” or “occurrence data” (Soberón et al. 1996, Graham et al. 2004a, Soberón and Peterson 2004). This trend results from large-scale efforts to digitize and reference to geographic coordinates (“georeference”) the estimated 1–3 billion specimens held in world museums and herbaria (Chalmers 1996, Krishtalka and Humphrey 2000), as well as efforts to improve access to large observational data stores, at least for certain taxonomic groups (chapter 5). Presence data, as we will see in coming chapters, form the basis for most efforts to estimate ecological niches. Publicly accessible Internet portals now allow access to on the order of 300 million primary biodiversity data records (Edwards 2004). Information regarding environmental variables is now similarly abundant. Petabytes (i.e., millions of gigabytes) of environmental information about climate, topography, soils, oceanographic variables, vegetation indices, landsurface reflectance, and so on, are available across almost the entire planet, and at increasingly finer resolutions (chapter 6). These datasets are being generated by agencies such as the European and U.S. space agencies, by the United Nations , by university researchers (e.g., Hijmans et al. 2005), and by many national institutions (e.g., CONABIO 2009, INPE 2009, NRSC 2009). Finally, powerful software allowing estimation of both areas of distribution and theoretical objects related to niches has been implemented. The work of pioneers like Grinnell, Hutchinson, and Austin suddenly became thriving research areas linking ecological and historical dimensions of biogeography. In particular, these tools enable what has been termed “species distribution modeling ” (SDM; Guisan and Zimmermann 2000, Hirzel et al. 2002, Guisan and Thuiller 2005, Araújo and Guisan 2006), as well as the related (but by no means equivalent) endeavor called “ecological niche modeling” (ENM; Peterson et al. 2002d, Soberón and Peterson 2005, Soberón 2007). These fields—the subject of this book—center on application of niche theory to questions about real and possible spatial distributions of species in the past, present, and future. In a very real sense, the availability of large quantities of data, technological developments like geographic information systems (GIS), and several computational tools are enabling a multitude of applications that are not only of biological importance, but that also can often be of extreme practical utility. Nevertheless, many carefully pondered decisions are necessary before it is possible to turn these data and tools into interesting analyses and useful knowledge...


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