The 'Map of Life' Will Track Every Plant and Animal on the Entire Planet

"Imagine you had the world's most amazing field guide."

When it's finished, the Map of Life will show the location of every known plant and animal on the planet.

“Imagine if you had the world's most amazing field guide,” says Robert Guralnick, a biodiversity scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder who’s working on the project. “When you go to the national parks or out exploring, you had at your fingertips something that was not just a static book but the world's most amazing field guide that changed and that you could contribute to.”

That is the goal of this project, an ambition that Guralnick’s website calls “simple and profound.” The beta version of the map just launched, with information about almost 25,000 species. The final version will includes tens of thousands more: There are more than a million species that scientists have named and documented, and potentially millions more still unknown.

The information available about the species' locations is not as detailed as it could be, though. “Where geography was 150 years... that's kind of what we're doing today in the world of biodiversity,” Guralnick says. Whereas today anyone can zoom in on a digital map and see details at the neighborhood level, the finest-grained biodiversity data is orders of magnitude more difficult to capture. Different sources of data about a species also provide different types of information. “Some are really good at telling you where species are not,” Guralnick says. “Some of them are really good at telling you where species are.”

The Map of Life grew out of the idea that combining all those different types of data would provide a more detailed picture. When a user searches for a species—the pika (pictured above), for instance—the Map of Life shows point-observation data (museum specimen or field observations), ranges drawn by species experts, and regional checklist data displaying the maximum extent of the species’ range. A search for the American pika produces the map below, with green for the expert maps, grey for the regional checklists, and points for the field observations.

Users can also search for a list of species within a particular area by right -licking on any point. Within 30 miles or so of Manhattan, one can find woodland voles, muskrats, smoky shrews, bobcats, and a slew of other species.

The team behind the project, led by Yale professor Walter Jetz, also is planning to create a mobile app for the map, which would generate a list of species based on the user’s location. They’re also looking for users to contribute to the project, helping to flag areas where the different data sets contradict each other, for instance.

Ultimately, the Map of Life could document the changes in biodiversity across the globe. “The idea behind the Map of Life isn't just about geographical distributions,” Guralnick says. “It's about the environment—climate change and landscape change.” It's important to understand how these changes are impacting species: A recent study found that biodiversity loss can affect the productivity of ecosystems on the same scale as pollution. Right now, scientists and land managers don’t have information about biodiversity on the scale that people actually live in. Putting all of the data into one place could help change that.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less