A team of researchers has embarked on a potentially groundbreaking project known as the Map of Life — an online database designed to catalog and locate every known plant and animal species on Earth. Led by Yale biology professor Walter Jetz, the team recently released a beta version of the tool, which already features location data on more than 25,000 species. With the browser-based app, users can search for a plant or animal by name, or right-click any region of the map to bring up a list of species within a given radius.
The concept behind the project is rather straightforward, but its effects could be profound. Scientists are currently aware of about two million plant and animal species on Earth, though estimates suggest that the total number may be far greater. Mapping out this biodiversity is even more difficult, due to inconsistent reporting and infrequently updated datasets. With the Map of Life, however, Jetz and his team hope to create a more dynamic and precise resource — one that not only identifies the location of a given species, but documents its movements, as well.
During a recent interview with Good, Robert Guralnick, a biodiversity student at the University of Colorado Boulder, described his team's map as "the world's most amazing field guide." Guralnick went on to say that the map could eventually be populated with crowdsourced data, allowing hikers and nature enthusiasts to flag any animals they may encounter. The tool may also raise awareness of the Earth's shifting biological trends by offering a more interactive and engaging educational platform.
For the moment, Jetz is busily adding more information to the map, and hopes to catalogue tens of thousands more species in the final version. The professor and his team are also looking to develop a mobile version of their app, which would be able to track any animals within a user's immediate vicinity.