For a project I am involved in, we are creating a dataset that will show the extents of natural areas and provide an estimate of the ecological integrity of that area. We are calling it an "Ecological Integrity Dataset," but as far as I can tell, we're making a map layer that has this information. Can someone very simply tell me the difference between a map layer and a dataset?

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    Outside of the ArcGIS world, I would say that from a dataset many maps can be created, and a map can comprise data from many datasets. The dataset is literally a set of data so it might have a discrete geometry but can have multiple attributes (a data set might be thought of as an INPUT), whereas a map is created from one or more INPUTS. A map is an OUTPUT.
    – nmtoken
    Mar 28 '16 at 20:20

A dataset becomes a map layer when it is included as a layer in a map (that is, represented cartographically). A dataset is any set of data (which could mean geographic or otherwise). It can be analysed, edited etc all without it ever being cartographically displayed... and so it remains a dataset and not a map layer until you pull it into your GIS GUI. So, "Ecological Integrity Dataset", sound like it is the correct term (until you display it, when you can legitimately call it a map layer - although it is STILL a dataset). By definition a map layer is geographic data. A table of non-geographic data in a map would still be a dataset, therefore, and so on. Everything else on the map is usually called map furniture.

TBH, it is splitting hairs a little in this case and many people use the terms interchangeably where GIS data is concerned. I wouldn't get too hung up on it.


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