Map of Life

Summary

Geographic information about biodiversity is used daily for many important decisions, yet remains unreliable. Where biodiversity occurs and how it is changing impacts resource management, education, recreation and research. The Map of Life project (demo at www.mappinglife.org) sets out to support the multiple uses of integrated and readily available biodiversity data by providing an interactive, online resource for assimilating, monitoring, and analyzing the global geographic distribution of species.

The Challenge

The geography of life on Earth lies at the heart of ecology, evolution and nature’s interaction with human society. The spatiotemporal context of individual organisms, populations and species defines their environmental and biotic setting. This setting, in turn, drives ecological processes and provides the arena for micro- and macro-evolutionary mechanisms.

Geographic data on species’ distributions are also vital for governments, agencies, and companies seeking to develop effective policies, and make sound decisions regarding land management, health, climate change and biodiversity conservation. Such data thus provide a critical intersection between the Biological Sciences and many other disciplines. In the form of range map displays in zoos, aquaria and field guides, such data are familiar to the broader public.

Given this pivotal role of species distribution information, it might be surprising to realize how poorly documented the geography of life on Earth is. For even the best known species, information on their geographic distribution is orders of magnitude coarser in spatial and temporal grain than almost all other global environmental information. The vast majority of information about species’ distributions is still not mobilized and available to scientists and the public in integrated form, and we are still far from the vision of an appropriate representation of the distribution of each species on the planet.

Insights

Building on a powerful and scalable web platform geared for “big” biodiversity and environmental data, Map of Life integrates species distribution knowledge from a wide range of data types and sources. Complementing and building on existing data aggregation effort, the current online infrastructure brings together numerous different data types and sources, providing millions of distribution records.

Visitors to the site can explore the global range of tens of thousands of species and see the heterogeneity of our knowledge about these distributions. A separate geographic biodiversity discovery tool allows users to explore the growing number of species groups living in any location worldwide.

The tool provides general ecological and threat information, images, and more from partner organizations, as well as list download for all species inhabiting a given area.

Impact

Worldwide, tens of thousands of users are already utilizing Map of Life for spatial biodiversity discovery and learning.

The project has implemented the use of cutting-edge web visualization and cloud-computing technology and started to combines remote sensing with innovative spatial modelling approaches. The integrative approach of combining data from different domains of science (museums, amateurs, expert feedback, remote sensing) and the use of interactive web-technology to enable transparent and readily updatable analyses has the potential to transform global biodiversity science and management.

The Future

With data and technology provided by NASA and Google, Map of Life aims to use global, remote sensing-based environmental layers in combination with species ecological information to enable on-the-fly predictions of species distributions, range changes, and early warning signals for threatened species.

The ultimate vision is a globally connected, collaborative knowledge- and tool-base for regional and local biodiversity decision-making, monitoring, and education.

The Team

Map of life
The “What lives here?” tool in Map of Life. Clicking anywhere on the map (here border of Honduras, red circle) provides information about the species living there.

Funders & Sponsors

Funders sponsors