Map of Life goes live

Map of Life, biodiversity, conservation, Mrs Morgan's Florilegium, Sydney Parkinson, Natalie Waddell

Map of Life – an interactive resource for global biodiversity analysis – launches today, promising a new era in the visualization of species distribution, reports Nature.

Funded in part by the US National Science Foundation, the site will soon allow users to add or update species data, thereby becoming the first two-way portal of biodiversity information.

The current release allows you to explore the global geographic distributions for any terrestrial vertebrate species (as well as North American freshwater fish).

Its founders note that this is the first demo public release so there may be glitches and that in near-future releases will increase the amount of data available, extending coverage to plants and invertebrates.

Right now, Map of Life provides species distribution information from 150 million records from the Global Biodiversity Infrastructure Facility, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the World Wildlife Fund.

“There’s no doubt Map of Life is a valuable tool; there’s nothing else out there that allows both researchers and citizen scientists to interact with all these layers of data,” says Smithsonian Institution curator Terry Erwin told Nature.

Map of Life, biodiversity, conservation, nature, Mrs Morgan's Florilegium, Natalie WaddellIt’s hoped that Map of Life’s “Wikipedia-style approach” will encourage the community to improve existing species-distribution data and build up an accurate picture of changing biodiversity.

It’s no small task, with disparate collections of information and competing efforts, expert botanists themselves under threat of extinction, institutional and financial support for fields such as taxonomy dwindling, and the way in which species are categorized going through transformation.

The website certainly works, however. The above top illustration is of Loris tardigradus, more commonly known as the red slender loris. You can see its distribution on the map above (if you click for the larger image), though sadly very few instances – in Sri Lanka, India and Paraguay.

A native of the rainforests of Sri Lanka, Loris tardigradus is currently number six of the 10 focal species and number 22 of the 100 mammal species worldwide considered the most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered.

It was originally named Lemur tardigradus in 1758 by the father of modern taxonomy Carl Linnaeus. The painting, dated 1767, was by Sydney Parkinson and comes from the British Museum archive.

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