A few days ago, the Map of Life went… well… live. It’s an interactive map that aims to… well… map global biodiversity. At present, it’s a beta version, so there are probably some bugs that need fixing. For now, the focus lies on fish and land vertebrates, but there are plans to add other groups later this year.
What separates this map from other global biodiversity maps, is that it combines data from a variety of sources in order to provide a diversity assessment that is as complete as possible. For some background and a brief history of the project, check this Nature News article.
Earlier this year, an article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution expressed the dissatisfaction of a few biologists with gathering biodiversity data. Combining different datasets, while knowing that others are trying to do exactly the same thing just seemed too inefficient. What if, so the authors wondered, we could develop a common resource for everybody who wanted to get information about the distribution of a certain species, or group of species.
Diligently, the researchers went to work. And now, a beta version of the Map of Life has been released. Following figure offers a schematic representation of how it works. Looks complicated, but in essence, it goes something like this: different kinds of data are gathered (top), combined and integrated (upper middle), represented through different models on a map (lower middle) and presented to users (bottom).
The fact that many different data sources are used makes the map a dynamic, and, if all goes well, growing repository of global biodiversity knowledge. But, some challenges remain. First, it has to gain traction. If no one uses it, it’s not going to be of much use (speaks for itself, doesn’t it?). Second, different types of data have to be properly integrated. And thirdly, Some relevant data is less accessible (think of analog records that require an extra digitization effort). However, none of these hurdles is insurmountable. The overall idea, then, is best articulated by the authors themselves:
A project such as Map of Life will not magically close the staggering biodiversity data knowledge gaps that are constraining science and management. However, to date even much of what we as society do know remains un-mobilized, non-integrated, unquantified and underused. Given community participation in building and contributing to a global endeavour such as Map of Life, the concepts, methods, and technologies clearly exist to take a large step forward in geographic understanding and appreciation of biodiversity.
Jetz, W., McPherson, J.M. & Guralnick, R.P. (2012). Integrating biodiversity distribution knowledge: toward a global map of life, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 27 (3) 159. DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2011.09.007