Yale and University of Colorado scientists are building the ultimate digital map of biodiversity called the Map of Life. The website will eventually show the current location of every known plant and animal species while also tracking any change to those populations and habitats due to climate change or other events. A demo version of the website just launched with information on 25,000 species, but tens of thousands more will be added.
The map pulls data from a few different sources: museum specimen and field observations, ranges drawn by species experts, local inventories and regional species checklists. These data sets are mapped together to show a layered perspective of the range of a species. The map above shows the results of a search for "brown bear," zoomed in on Alaska and Canada. The dots are field sightings, the green is the expert maps, the purple is local inventories and the grey is the regional checklist data that usually covers a species' maximum range. You can toggle any of those layers on or off and adjust how dark each of them appear.
The Map of Life lets you search either by species or location. You can right click (control-click on Macs) on any point of the map and see what known species are there. If you've ever wanted to know more about the biodiversity of where you live, this tool gives you a fast and wonderfully visual way to learn.
The Map of Life won't just be a static digital map, but one that changes as the species' ranges grow, shrink or move. The creators of the website want users to contribute by reporting any inconsistencies or new information on a species if they have it so that the map truly reflects life on Earth.
University of Colorado scientist Robert Guralnick says “The idea behind the Map of Life isn't just about geographical distributions, it's about the environment—climate change and landscape change.”
The Map of Life team also want to develop a mobile app that will show the biodiversity of an area based on the user's location and serve as a digital pocket field guide.