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U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1192

Prepared in cooperation with the Hawaiʻi Cooperative Studies Unit, University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo

Mapping Plant Species Ranges in the Hawaiian Islands—Developing a Methodology and Associated GIS Layers

By Jonathan P. Price, James D. Jacobi, Samuel M. Gon, III, Dwight Matsuwaki, Loyal Mehrhoff, Warren Wagner, Matthew Lucas, and Barbara Rowe

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (6.4 MB)Executive Summary

This report documents a methodology for projecting the geographic ranges of plant species in the Hawaiian Islands. The methodology consists primarily of the creation of several geographic information system (GIS) data layers depicting attributes related to the geographic ranges of plant species. The most important spatial-data layer generated here is an objectively defined classification of climate as it pertains to the distribution of plant species. By examining previous zonal-vegetation classifications in light of spatially detailed climate data, broad zones of climate relevant to contemporary concepts of vegetation in the Hawaiian Islands can be explicitly defined. Other spatial-data layers presented here include the following: substrate age, as large areas of the island of Hawaiʻi, in particular, are covered by very young lava flows inimical to the growth of many plant species; biogeographic regions of the larger islands that are composites of multiple volcanoes, as many of their species are restricted to a given topographically isolated mountain or a specified group of them; and human impact, which can reduce the range of many species relative to where they formerly were found. Other factors influencing the geographic ranges of species that are discussed here but not developed further, owing to limitations in rendering them spatially, include topography, soils, and disturbance. A method is described for analyzing these layers in a GIS, in conjunction with a database of species distributions, to project the ranges of plant species, which include both the potential range prior to human disturbance and the projected present range. Examples of range maps for several species are given as case studies that demonstrate different spatial characteristics of range. Several potential applications of species-range maps are discussed, including facilitating field surveys, informing restoration efforts, studying range size and rarity, studying biodiversity, managing invasive species, and planning of conservation efforts.

  • This report is available only on the Web.

For additional information contact:
PIERC, Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
U.S. Geological Survey
677 Ala Moana Blvd. Suite 615
Honolulu, HI 96813

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Suggested citation:

Price, J.P., Jacobi, J.D., Gon, S.M., III, Matsuwaki, D., Mehrhoff, L., Wagner, W., Lucas, M., and Rowe, B., 2012, Mapping plant species ranges in the Hawaiian Islands—Developing a methodology and associated GIS layers: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1192, 34 p., 1 appendix (species table), 1,158 maps, available at


Executive Summary


Climate Zone Classification

Moisture Availability Index

Moisture Zone Map

Adaptation of the Moisture-Zone Map to Species Distributions

Young Lava Substrate Areas

Biogeographic Regions

Human Impact

Additional Factors Influencing Species Ranges

Species-Range Mapping

Applications of Estimated-Range Maps

Summary and Future Modeling Efforts


References Cited

Appendix—Modeled Historic Range Maps for Hawaiian Vascular Plant Species

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