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A Jabiru stork at the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary

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Map of Life supports the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation as science partner for the Half-Earth Project

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Half-Earth Project


“The Half-Earth Project is founded on science, but at its heart is our transcendent moral obligation to all life.”
- E.O. Wilson


We are currently in a biodiversity crisis, with species going extinct at a rate 1000 times higher than the natural rate. Rather than passively documenting the decline of species, the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation founded their ground-breaking initiative: The Half-Earth Project. Edward O. Wilson’s book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life (2016), proposes this monumental idea to save half the earth for the rest of life. Through the establishments of partnerships and supporting research, leadership, and engagement, the project’s mission is to help prioritize the preservation of biodiversity on half of the earth’s land and sea.


Mapping Core

The key question is: What are the places to prioritize for this Half-Earth network? This is what the Half-Earth Project’s Mapping Core has set out to answer. Its mission is to assess the current state of global biodiversity, and examine which areas are of key importance for reaching Half.

Map of Life is leading the science behind the Mapping Core. This effort leverages Map of Life’s enormous biodiversity database and modelling tools, addressing tens of thousands of species and millions of occurrence records and includes a range of data partners (i.e. GBIF, UNEP-WCMC, IUCN). The Mapping Core is integrating data regarding the current distribution of biodiversity, biodiversity trends, human pressures, and protected areas to provide a comprehensive picture of conservation gaps and opportunities. Through collaboration with data visualization partner Vizzuality the Mapping Core is offering new dynamic ways to interact with and explore this information.

Protected Areas
The current protected area network requires additional areas prioritized for conservation to more comprehensively protect biodiversity and connect landscapes

The Half-Earth Project integrates multiple layers of high resolution data to identify places where species are insufficiently protected. This information will guide prioritization of places for conservation. By prioritizing conservation efforts in places with particularly range-restricted species, we can rapidly improve on the number of species that have at least minimum conservation protection.

Mammal richness in South Africa Cape Region
Mammal richness in South Africa’s Cape Region

Map of life is conducting powerful spatial analyses across scales to produce high resolution data on the status and trends of biodiversity globally. South Africa’s Cape Region was used as a proof-of-concept, using high resolution environmental layers, occurrence records, and expert range maps to more accurately predict species distributions and measure the richness and endemism at a regional level. Our next step will be to scale these analyses up to other regions!


Half-Earth Day 2017

On October 23, 2017, Map of Life joined the first ever Half-Earth Day, sponsored by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and hosted by National Geographic in Washington, DC. This full-day inaugural event started with a roundtable discussion, chaired by National Geographic Chief Scientist Jonathan Baillie, among some of the world’s leaders in biodiversity conservation, all of whom agreed that protecting half the earth is possible! Discussions included where and what should be prioritized for conservation, elements that should be considered for expanding the protected area network, restoring degraded lands, and keeping large wildlands intact.

Half Earth day round table
Round table discussion among leading conservation scientists
Half Earth day Walter Jetz presenting
Walter Jetz, Scientific Lead of the Mapping Core presenting initial results

The public sessions were a refreshing departure from the doom-and-gloom often felt amongst the conservation community. The afternoon speakers gave presentations sharing their stories of conservation success in large landscapes from around the world. Their initiatives highlighted how communities, organizations, and especially individuals can make a huge impact in the effort to conserve Earth’s biodiversity both on land and in the oceans.

Half Earth day panel session
Conservation in Action Panel: Q&A session

Half-Earth Day continued with a conversation between E.O. Wilson and Sean B. Carroll, author/educator, where they discussed Half-Earth’s mission and the steps that can be and already being taken to scale up our conservation targets.


“The only hope for the species still living is a human effort commensurate with the magnitude of the problem.”
- E.O. Wilson


Half Earth day Wilson and Carroll
Inspiring conversation with Sean B. Carroll and E.O. Wilson

The event was wrapped up the with remarks and a special performance from legendary musician, Paul Simon, who has supported project initiatives through a tribute tour and also spreading the Half-Earth Project message to a broad audience.

Half Earth day Paul Simon
Live performance by Paul Simon


What’s next for the Half-Earth Mapping Core?

Stay tuned for the release of the Half-Earth Map, where you will be able to explore global biodiversity hotspots and see how the current global protected area network can be expanded to represent priority areas for conservation. The Half-Earth Map presents a novel way of advancing and communicating biodiversity information and of engaging users as the map comes to life. Follow us as we further refine our analysis and mapping efforts, putting rigorous science at the forefront of the global conservation movement.