A team of researchers from Yale University is developing the Map of Life, an online platform that will monitor the existence of all plants and animals on the planet. When completed, users will be able to search for any species in the world, locate them via satellite or terrain maps, and then add their knowledge and feedback. If Wikipedia, Google Maps and the best nature field guides were combined into one web site, the result would be Map of Life. This intuitive platform could help increase the understanding of the world’s biodiversity–and perhaps even save it.
Led by Walter Jetz of Yale, the Map of Life team also has the support of NASA, the National Science Foundation and several NGOs devoted to biodiversity research. Data from organizations including the WWF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is available in an instant. Users can search for multiple species at once, view the areas of world in which they inhabit and learn more about how these plants and animals are under threat.
Here’s how Map of Life, which is currently open for testing by the public, works. Suppose you want to learn more about the jaguar, or Panthera onca. Users just need to type the species in which they are interested into the search field. As “jaguar” is typed, a list of suggested species will appear. After the species is selected, several boxes then hover above the world map. Users can select the sources from which the most current field data is available, locations where known species observations have occurred, local inventories and then the geographic range in which these species can live. The same user who is curious about additional animals that are part of the jaguar’s diet, like the tapir (Tapirus terrestris), can enter more species, compare their range, and then start determining the factors that are affecting ecosystems around the world.
Map of Life has the opportunity to help expert researchers, students and the average person who has a passion for wildlife all understand how factors including climate change and habitat destruction are affecting the world’s most threatened species in real time. Currently that task is a huge challenge because the data that helps scientists understand the impact of biodiversity loss is scattered around the planet. Map of Life’s goal, to centralize all this information in one place, could make a huge difference in saving threatened species.