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Phylogeographic information systems: putting the geography into phylogeography

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Phylogeography is concerned with the observation, description and analysis of the spatial distribution of genotypes and the inference of historical scenarios. In the past, the discipline has concentrated on the historical ‘phylo-’ component through the utilization of phylogenetic analyses. In contrast, the spatial ‘-geographic’ component is not a prominent feature of many existing phylogenetic approaches and has often been dealt with in a relatively naive fashion. Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in the importance of geography in evolutionary biology. Thus, we believe that it is time to assess how geographic information is currently handled and incorporated into phylogeographical analysis. Geographical information systems (GISs) are computer systems that facilitate the integration and interrelation of different geographically referenced data sets; however, so far they have been little utilized by the phylogeographical community to manage, analyse and disseminate phylogeographical data. However, the growth in individual studies and the resurgence of interest in the geographical components of genetic pattern and biodiversity should stimulate further uptake. Some advantages of GIS are the integration of disparate data sets via georeferencing, dynamic data base design and update, visualization tools and data mining. An important step in linking GIS to existing phylogeographical and historical biogeographical analysis software and the dissemination of spatial phylogenies will be the establishment of ‘GeoPhylo’ data standards. We hope that this paper will further stimulate the resurgence of geography as an equal partner in the symbiosis that is phylogeography as well as advertise some benefits that can be obtained from the application of GIS practices and technologies.
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Keywords: Bioinformatics; GeoPhylo data standards; coalescent; geographical information system; historical biogeography; phylogeography; phyloinformatics; population genetics; visualization

Document Type: Guest Editorial

Publication date: 01 November 2006

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