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Map of Life: Preserving biodiversity with data

About Map of Life Map of Life supports global biodiversity education, monitoring, research, and decision-making by integrating and analyzing global information about species distributions and dynamics. Using hosted cloud technology, Map of Life makes its data available to scholars, researchers, students, teachers, and conservationists.

Industries: Education, Non-profit Location: United States Products: App Engine, BigQuery, Cloud SQL, Cloud Storage, Compute Engine, Google Earth Engine

Map of Life supports biodiversity education, monitoring, research, and decision-making by using Google Cloud Platform products to collect, analyze, and visually represent global data

Stores over 600M records for 44K+ species

Google Cloud Platform Results Speeds up data analysis required for accurate assessments of endangered species Provides scientific evidence to support conservation efforts Scales on demand to support additions and updates to large data volumes Stores over 600M records for 44K+ species

The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex systems that inhabit it. But phenomena including climate change, pollution, unsustainable agriculture, and habitat destruction and degradation threaten the planet’s ecosystems and inhabitants. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that wildlife populations worldwide declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.

To reverse such trends, scientists, conservationists, and governments need to know where and how to target efforts to help prevent extinction and preserve biodiversity. Yale University and the University of Florida (UF) partnered to tackle the challenge by collecting and analyzing global sources of data and making information available to help guide research, policy, and conservation.

“Google Cloud Platform offers all the tools we need for large-scale data management and analysis. Its integration with Google Earth Engine makes it ideal for data visualization.” —Walter Jetz, Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University

Their solution, Map of Life, contains data about vertebrates, plants, and insects from international, national, and local sources, including BirdLife International, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Yale and UF chose Google Cloud Platform to support Map of Life’s data storage, analysis, and mapping because of its superior ability to scale, integrate, manage, mine, and display data.

“Google Cloud Platform offers all the tools we need for large-scale data management and analysis,” says Walter Jetz, Associate Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. “Its integration with Google Earth Engine and Google Maps make it ideal for data visualization.”

Mapping where species are at-risk

Map of Life currently draws from more than 600 million records worldwide that contain information about approximately 44,351 species of vertebrates, plants, and insects and more than 700,000 species names, stores the information in Google Cloud Storage. Its scalable, high-performance architecture also includes the Google App Engine platform-as-a-service (PaaS) to host application logic and feed information to various user interfaces via RESTful application program interfaces (APIs). Geolocation and spatial data can be analyzed and displayed through Google App Engine APIs that connect to the Google Earth Engine, and CARTO geolocation data cloud platforms. The Map of Life CARTO service runs on Google Compute Engine virtual machines to improve scalability of on-demand vector mapping and query needs.

Combining data from multiple sources allows Map of Life to estimate the distribution of and trends within at-risk species and make this information available to naturalists, conservation groups, natural resource managers, scientists, and interested amateurs. Anyone who visits the website or downloads the mobile app can view the information.

Google Compute Engine performs complex data analyses to predict which species are at risk. The science behind understanding biodiversity and identifying and predicting trends within species requires multiple analytic iterations, each of which accounts for corrections and new input from scientists. Google Compute Engine is particularly well suited for this because of how quickly it processes each iteration.

“Map of Life uses Google BigQuery to analyze massive data sets, quickly. We can perform a query on 600 million species occurrence records in less than a minute, helping scientists reach conclusions more quickly.” —Jeremy Malczyk, Lead Software Engineer, Map of Life

“Every day we’re gathering more data, including from remote sensors,” says Walter. “Using Google Cloud Platform and Google Earth Engine, we’re able to make more accurate predictions about at-risk species worldwide.”

Map of Life continually incorporates new data sets, including those from individual observers who submit observations about vertebrates, plants, and insects. The platform even integrates remote-sensing data from Google Earth Engine and uses Google BigQuery to analyze large sets of unstructured data.

“Map of Life uses Google BigQuery to analyze massive data sets, quickly,” says Jeremy Malczyk, Lead Software Engineer for Map of Life. “We can perform a query on 600 million species occurrence records in less than a minute, helping scientists reach conclusions more quickly.”

Global conservation powered by data More than 100,000 scientists and concerned citizens already use Map of Life for biodiversity research and discovery. Map of Life is also developing new tools and visualizations to support the specific needs of government agencies and conservation organizations to help support the development of environmental policy.

The Chicago Field Museum and Map of Life received a $300,000 MacArthur Foundation grant to support conservation efforts in South America. Map of Life is creating data visualization dashboards for park managers, who can use the biodiversity information to improve conservation strategies in protected areas across Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

“Humankind has historically had very little information about biodiversity with sufficient spatial detail at a global scale. Map of Life is setting out to change that,” adds Walter. “By combining in data and models we aim to help everyone from eco-tourists who can appreciate biodiversity wherever they travel, to resource managers who need to handle development in a sustainable way, and to governments who want to protect biodiversity.”

View article on Google Cloud Platform

Map of Life: new global biodiversity patterns pages launched

Map of Life has released a first suite of maps that aggregate biodiversity patterns. These pages feature global biodiversity patterns based on publications in Nature and PNAS. The types of maps available are:


Species Phylogenetic Functional
Species Richness Phylogenetic Diversity Functional Diversity
Species Endemism Phylogenetic Endemism Functional Endemism
Local Species Diversity Priority Local Phylogenetic Diversity Priority Local Functional Diversity Priority
Global Species Diversity Priority Global Phylogenetic Diversity Priority Global Functional Diversity Priority

Explore these new resources here.

View article on JetzLab

Study: Targeted conservation could protect more of Earth's biodiversity

Research by Yale and the University of Grenoble documents where additional conservation efforts globally could most effectively support the safeguarding of species (some examples shown here) that are particularly distinct in their functions or their position in the family tree of life. (Image credits: family tree illustration, Laura Pollock; Solenodon paradoxus photo, Nate Upham; additional photos, Wikipedia.) A new study finds that major gains in global biodiversity can be achieved if an additional 5% of land is set aside to protect key species.

Scientists from Yale University and the University of Grenoble said such an effort could triple the protected range of those species and safeguard their functional diversity. The findings underscore the need to look beyond species numbers when developing conservation strategies, the researchers said.

“Biodiversity conservation has mostly focused on species, but some species may offer much more critical or unique functions or evolutionary heritage than others — something current conservation planning does not readily address,” said Walter Jetz, a Yale associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and director of the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change.

“We show that a direct consideration of these other biodiversity facets identifies different regions as high-priority for conservation than a focus on species does, and more effectively safeguards functions or evolutionary heritage,” Jetz said. “We find that through the smart placement of conservation areas, strong gains in the conservation of the multiple facets of biodiversity facets are possible.”

The study appears online May 24 in the journal Nature. Laura Pollock of the University of Grenoble is the study’s first author, Jetz is senior author, and Wilfried Thuiller of the University of Grenoble is co-author.

The researchers noted that 26% of the world’s bird and mammal species are not reliably included in protected areas. The outlook for filling gaps in bird and mammal diversity could improve dramatically by smartly expanding the areas currently managed for conservation, they said.

The researchers advocate a conservation strategy that emphasizes global representation, i.e., the planetary safeguarding of species function or evolutionary heritage planet-wide, rather than local representation. They estimate that a carefully prepared 5% increase in conservation area would allow a dramatically improved capture of bird and mammal biodiversity facets; an approach focused on species numbers alone would be much less optimal, the researchers said.

Jetz and his colleagues also said their approach enables a more comprehensive guidance and capture of progress as mandated by the Convention on Biological Diversity and under evaluation by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

“Given the current biodiversity crisis, these results are encouraging because they show big conservation gains are possible for aspects of biodiversity that might otherwise be overlooked in conservation plans,” Pollock said. “This biodiversity is key to retaining the tree of life or functioning ecosystems, which nicely fits declared international policy goals. This approach can be updated and refined as the world’s biodiversity becomes better understood, catalogued, and documented.”

The researchers have created interactive web maps in the Map of Life project to accompany the study. They can be found at: https://mol.org/patterns/facets

The National Science Foundation, the Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, the People’s Programme of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme, and the European Research Council supported the research.

View article on YaleNews

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Latest Blog Posts

Updates to Map of Life infrastructure

Friday, September 22, 2017
Over the past year, we have been overhauling our database so that we can improve the performance of mol.org and thus providing you -our users- with a better experience. It is a real challenge to manage and visualize large volumes of data, and this change is part of our on-going effort to improve the efficiency of our website and spatial analyses. We have also developed some new features for the Global Biodiversity Mountain Assessment Mountain Portal 2.0. Here are some new features you can enjoy: Additional data, including more range maps, updated point occurrences, local inventories, and more. Faster map loading speeds, particularly on the species page. Descriptions and metrics for mountain regions. Language support for an additional 4 languages (Spanish, French, German, and Chinese) in the species and regions pages. Portuguese will be coming soon! The Datasets page is now live. New Map of Life Datasets page! In order to increase the loading speed of the species maps, some features are temporarily ... read more »

Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment Mountain Portal: a powerful new online tool developed by Map of Life for exploring mountain biodiversity

Sunday, December 11, 2016
The Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA) teamed up with Map of Life (MOL) to launch a new web-portal for the visualization and exploration of biodiversity data for over 1000 mountain ranges defined worldwide. Global mountain inventory Mountains are hotspots of biodiversity and areas of high endemism that support one third of terrestrial species and numerous ecosystem services. Mountain ecosystems are therefore of prime importance not only for biodiversity, but for human well-being in general. Because of their geodiversity, mountain ecosystems have served as refuge for organisms during past climatic changes and are predicted to fulfill this role also under forthcoming changes. Yet, mountains are responding to increasing land use pressure and changes in climatic conditions, and collecting, consolidating, and standardizing biodiversity data in mountain regions is therefore important for improving our current understanding of biodiversity patterns and predicting future trends. In order to accurately ... read more »

Map of Life supporting IUCN Nepal on web-based tools

Friday, September 16, 2016
With sponsorship from Map of Life IUCN Nepal has received a PEER grant from the US National Academy to collaborate on new web-based tools to support conservationists, researchers, and local communities in the region. Driven by demand for a consolidated, open source, and scaleable platform - JaibikMap - IUCN Nepal, with the help of Map of Life have partnered together to make vital information accessible to multiple stakeholders. This is part of an on-going effort to improve biodiversity outcomes, obtain up-to-date data, and engage the public. JaibikMap will leverage the power of Map of Life to visualize species range maps, develop upload tools, map species richness, and compare and predict future scenarios. Snow leopard (Panthera uncia) read more »
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