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The sizes of species’ geographic ranges

Gaston, K.J. & Fuller, R.A. 2009. The sizes of species’ geographic ranges. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46, 1–9.

1 Geographic range size and how it changes through time is one of the fundamental ecological and evolutionary characteristics of a species, and a strong predictor of extinction risk. However, the measurement of range size remains a substantial challenge. Indeed, there is significant confusion in the literature as to how this should be done, particularly in the context of the distinction between the fundamentally different concepts of extent of occurrence (EOO) and area of occupancy (AOO), and the use of these quantities, including in assessments of the threat status of species.

2 Here we review the different approaches to determining the geographic distributions of species, the measurement of their range sizes, the relationships between the two, and other difficulties posed by range size measurement (especially those of range discontinuities when measuring EOO, and spatial scale when measuring AOO).

3 We argue that it is important to (i) distinguish the estimation of the distribution of a species from the measurement of its geographic range size; (ii) treat measures of EOO and AOO as serving different purposes, rather than regarding them as more or less accurate ways of measuring range size; and (iii) measure EOO including discontinuities in habitat or occupancy.

4 Synthesis and applications. With the availability and collation of extensive data sets on species occurrences, a rapidly increasing number of studies are investigating geographic range size, and particularly how various measures of range size predict macroecological patterns and inform assessments of the conservation status of species and areas. The distinction between EOO and AOO is becoming blurred in many contexts, but most particularly in that of threatened species assessments for Red Listing. Continued progress in these fields demands greater clarity in the meaning and derivation of measures of geographic range size. The two principal measures serve different purposes, and should not be regarded as alternatives that simply differ in accuracy.

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