The US Geological Survey (USGS) late last week released a powerful new tool for conservationists and anyone with a passing interest in America's animal populations. Biodiversity Information Serving Our Nation (BISON) is a Web-based map with search functionality that contains more than 100 million recorded observations of animal species across the country. Together, the observations made by professional scientists and amateur naturalists encompass "nearly every living species nationwide," as the USGS noted in a news release.

Search by species name

BISON's search functionality allows users to enter in a particular species by its common name ("cat") or scientific name ("felis catus"), and if the animal is in the database, the map will display each recorded observation of that animal as a point in the location where it occurred. There are over 100,00 points in Central Park alone, for instance. Clicking on a point pulls up additional information, such as who made the sighting and the date. Another tab offers a list view of observations, which come from nearly 300 universities, web portals and scientific surveys going back decades. Users can also select additional data layers, including a heat map of species occurrences by county or by state (with more occurrences indicated by darker colors), and views of ecosystems, temperature and soil composition.

The goal in creating BISON is to further conservation efforts and eco-friendly land-use by the government and citizens. All the data is freely available for scientific research, and stored on the massive servers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Even for those who just want to see what types of animals are around them, the map is worth a look. Check it out here.