IUCN Spatial Data Resources

IUCN Species Mapping Resources (GIS)

The species distribution maps, sometimes referred to as 'limits of distribution' or 'field guide' maps, aim to provide the current known distribution of the species within its native range. The limits of distribution can be determined by using known occurrences of the species, along with the knowledge of habitat preferences, remaining suitable habitat, elevation limited, and other expert knowledge of the species and its range. In most cases, the range is depicted as polygons. A polygon displaying the limits of a species distribution is essentially meant to communicate that the species probably occurs within this polygon, but it does not mean that it is distributed equally within that polygon or occurs everywhere within that polygon.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species uses spatial data for the mapping of species. The spatial data is created in shapefiles and compiles of a standardise format of attributes. Each shapefile must contain taxonomic information, and contain information on the distribution status, sources and other details (see metadata document). Below are some of the IUCN Red List Tools, basedata and example polygon shapefiles.

Standards Documentation

METADATA for Digital Distribution Maps of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Presence, Seasonal and Origin Attributes for Species Ranges

IUCN Standard Attributes for Point Locality Data


GIS Tools and Recommened Basedata

The following documents and tools are available to help users to find their way around species mapping of IUCN Red List assessments:

  • Mapbatcher (21MB) - An ArcMap 10.3 document providing an automated way to create multiple static maps of species distributions using the IUCN Red List spatial data.  


ArcGIS: Mapping FAQ, Guidance and Tips Document 

Google Maps: Mapping Using Google Maps and Google Earth


 Software and Tools

Freshwater Mapping Tool - A free, online mapping application developed to help create distribution maps of inland water species, highlighting occurrence in HydroBASIN areas. A User Manual is also available for the Freshwater Mapping Tool

Esri - GIS Mapping Software, links to ArcGIS for Desktop free trial, Esri Resource Center for support, maps and data and training.

Geospatial Modelling Environment - GME provides you with a suite of analysis and modelling tools.

QGIS - An open source GIS desktop software.

XTools - Comprehensive set of tools for vector spatial data.

GeoCAT - Online tool for geospatial analysis of species.

R Packages - packages for R, e.g. rCAT, red, redlistr.


Data Providers

Blue Habitats - Global distributions of marine habitats.

Free GIS Data - over 300 links providing freely available geographic datasets.

GBIF - free, open access to biodiversity data.

Wiki GIS Data Sources - information data sets for GIS

WWF Conservation Science Data and Tools - Data for Marine, Freshwater and Terrestrial Ecoregions and other data sets.

UNEP-WCMC Data Viewer - Biodiversity, WDPA (World Database on Protected Areas), Ecoregions and other marine and coastal datasets.

For all enquiries about spatial data, please contact the IUCN Red List GIS Unit.