Screen-shot Map of Life (Image: Yale University)

Screen-shot Map of Life (Image: Yale University)

A new website, built on a Google Maps platform, allows anyone with an Internet connection to map the known global distribution of nearly all of Earth’s species, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, as well as the fresh water fish of North America.

This initial version of  “Map of Life” shows how all of Earth’s animals are geographically distributed throughout the world.

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

A joint effort with the University of Colorado and the Calgary Zoological Society, the ongoing project is outlined in “Trends in Ecology and Evolution”.

The team anticipates “Map of Life” will be a useful tool for a number of people, including professional scientists, wildlife and land managers, ecological and conservation organizations, as well as interested members of the general public.

(Map of Life demo)

Data for the project includes contributions from various museums; local and regional checklists; and observations recorded by both professional and amateur scientists.

The map is expected to grow as additional data is continuously added by both professionals and amateurs, allowing researchers to identify and fill knowledge gaps, while at the same time offering a unique tool which can be used to detect change over a period of time.

Just how in-depth and extensive the map will be depends upon the continual input, support and participation by others in the scientific community.  In future versions, the mapping tool will offer various mechanisms for users to supply new or missing information.

Fundamentally, the map is, “an infrastructure, something to help us all collaborate, improve, share, and understand the still extremely limited geographic knowledge about biodiversity,” Jetz says.