Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mapping Ecosystems and Biodiversity

The Nature Conservancy is creating an atlas to depict worldwide ecosystems and the threats they face.
The atlas is the work of eight scientists at the Nature Conservancy who three years ago set out to chart everything from the mangroves in Borneo where proboscis monkeys live to the extent of grasslands on Mongolia's steppes, in order to produce 80 detailed maps.

"The atlas is telling us what's where, what state it's in, what people are doing to it now -- the big threats, and what we can do to turn it around," said senior marine scientist Mark Spalding of the Conservancy.

The maps -- all done on the same scale -- depict a dizzying array of ecosystems, plants and animals across the globe in different stages of depletion. One shows how the human demand for water outstrips the natural supply in dry and crowded regions such as the American West and the Mediterranean basin; another shows how large areas of intact forests cover 10 percent of the earth's land surface, while they once spread over nearly half of it.

"The sobering message shouldn't be glossed over," said Boucher. He added that since maps showing where animals are threatened also show that some are surging back to health, "It's a case of sorrow, but also a case of hope."
The project is going to be released as a book on April 22, but you can already view the maps online at the Nature Conservancy's website. A screenshot for one of them, the map of bird diversity, is at the top of this post. Clicking on portions of the map will bring up a box showing more details for that area.