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‘Map of Life’ shows distribution of different species on earth

USA: A research team from Yale University and the University of Colorado Boulder, USA, developed a first public demonstration version of ‘Map of Life’. It is a web-based tool to show the distribution of all living plants and animals on the earth.

The demonstration version allows anyone with an Internet connection to map the known global distribution of almost 25,000 species of terrestrial vertebrate animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and North American freshwater fish. The database, which continues to expand, already contains hundreds of millions of records on the abundance and distribution of the planet’s diverse flora and fauna.

“We are taking 200 years of different types of knowledge coming from different sources, all documenting the locations of species around the world and compiling them in a way that will greatly enhance our knowledge of biodiversity,” said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Robert Guralnick of the ecology and evolutionary biology department, part of the Map of Life research team. “Such information could be used by any organisation that needs to make informed decisions regarding land management, health, conservation and climate change.”

The initial version of the map tool is intended to introduce it to the broader public, according to the researchers. It allows users to see several levels of detail for a given species — at its broadest, the type of environment it lives in, and at its finest, specific locations where the species’ presence has been documented. One function allows users to click a point on the map and generate a list of vertebrate species in the surrounding area. More functions will be added over time, according to the team.

“It is the where and the when of a species,” said Walter Jetz, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale and the project lead. “It puts at your fingertips the geographic diversity of life. Ultimately, the hope is for this literally to include hundreds of thousands of animal and plant species and show how much or indeed how little we know of their whereabouts.”

A paper by Jetz, Guralnick and Jana McPherson of the Calgary Zoological Society describing the evolving Map of Life technology tool appeared in a recent issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

By highlighting the known abundance and distribution of species, the researchers hope to identify and fill knowledge gaps and also offer a tool for detecting change over time. They expect the map tool will prove useful for professional scientists, wildlife and land managers, conservation organisations and the general public.

“A small but powerful next step is to provide a means for anyone, anywhere on the globe to use their mobile devices to instantly pull up animal and plant distributions and even get a realistic assessment on the odds of encountering a particular species of wildlife,” said Guralnick, who also is the curator of invertebrate zoology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.

Source: University of Colorado