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Records from natural history collections can be used to map species distributions and to track spatial and/or temporal changes associated with natural or human-induced habitat alteration, climatic trends, and other environmental modifications. Although sampling is always limited to a finite number of places, the geographic range and ecological niche of a species can be estimated using one of several modeling approaches (e.g. BIOCLIM, GARP, logistic regression). These models use observed point distributions (specimen data) and spatially continuous environmental data to map species occurrences and to predict areas that have not been sampled but where the species might be found based on its ecological niche.

Geographic Information System (GIS) specialists at the MVZ have contributed significantly to the development of a WORLDCLIM database for interpolating climate data at a high resolution, to facilitate such modeling in any place of the world. In addition, these staff have collaborated in the development of DIVA-GIS, a free GIS application that can be used to map and analyze specimen data for spatial assessment and predictive modeling.

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