News and Notes

Visualizing global biodiversity data on a local scale

The latest iteration to the Half-Earth Map presents new features for deeper insight.

No one knows exactly how many species there are on our planet. Around 2 million have been identified and described by scientists, but there could be as many as 10 million species.

What we do know is this: maintaining the diversity of life on Earth will safeguard the future of our planet.

The Half-Earth Project recognizes the importance of conserving biodiversity on a global scale. To date, just 14.9% of terrestrial areas and 7.47% of marine areas are protected, and the Half-Earth Project is working to set aside half the land and half the sea for nature. But which half? By mapping the geographical distribution of species across the globe, the Half-Earth Project is taking a data-based approach to identifying the best places to protect the most species.

People new to the Half-Earth Project can begin their exploration of vibrant, “Best Places in the Biosphere” feature.

The Half-Earth Map visualizes data that can help us identify which places are home to the greatest variety of life. The latest iteration, released in October 2019, includes new features such as dynamic descriptions of an area’s habitat type, a ‘species to watch’ radar, and adjustments to the 3D view. Together these features offer deeper insight and a more immersive experience. In time, as more data and features are added, the Half-Earth Map will become a tool that experts can use to identify and select which places to preserve for nature.

Let’s take a tour of the new features by taking a closer look at Gabon, a country in west Africa where 22.4% of the land, and 28.83% of the sea is already protected (WDPA). These protected areas are a haven for species such as the Leopard (Panthera pardus), Cape Gannet (Morus capensis), and Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) marine turtles. By protecting both the land and sea, Gabon is proactively tackling issues such as illegal fishing, habitat destruction, and overexploitation.

In Gabon, 22.4% of the terrestrial area, and 28.83% of the marine area is protected. The dark, muted colors of the ‘desaturated’ base map help make the data layers more prominent. Read more about the design of the Half-Earth basemap in this blog.

Gabon’s coastline is home to a number of range-restricted marine fishes, meaning there are fishes here that won’t be found in many, or any, other places. The coastline is also an internationally important nesting site for marine turtles, in particular Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) and Olive Ridleys. Both of these species are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List but Gabon’s network of marine and terrestrial protected areas ensures 79% of the country’s turtle nesting sites are protected.

Map showing the rarity of marine species within each ‘cell’. Rarity considers the distribution of species, and the smaller the distribution, the rarer it is. The yellow ‘cells’ indicate the presence of a high number of species with a smaller distribution, also known as a ‘restricted range’.

On land, Honey Badgers (Mellivora capensis), Western Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla), and three species of pangolin (Smutsia gigantea, Phataginus tricuspis, and Phataginus tetradactyla), are just a few of the 24,000 species of terrestrial vertebrates that Half-Earth maps information from.

Gabon’s mammal species are high in rarity. To switch between the rarity and richness map, simply click on the word ‘rarity’ or ‘richness’.

‘Species to watch here’ is a new feature that’s designed to introduce you to a few of the rarest species in each ‘cell’ of the map. The circular design of the radar plot represents the area of the ‘cell’, and provides a visual clue as to how much of a species’ range is protected. The closer the dot is to the center, the more protected it is. Dots closer to the edge of the radar indicate that only a small percentage of that species’ range is protected.

For example, the dot representing the Cape Gannet is located slightly closer to the center than the other dots. This means a higher percentage of its range is protected, compared to the others. The facts below the radar plot then reveal that 32.55% of the Cape Gannet’s range is protected globally, and it is listed as Endangered on The IUCN Red List. By presenting information in this way, the Half-Earth Map quickly provides digestible nuggets of information that help us understand the current situation.

The ‘species to watch’ radar plot provides a snapshot of the species that can be found in the area of the map you are currently looking at. The species featured in the radar plot will update dynamically as you move around the map.

A Cape Gannet can live for up to 20 years, but its existence is threatened by the collapse of the sardine fishery in Namibia and the displacement of fish off the coast of South Africa. Without a sustainable source of suitable fish to eat, the Cape Gannet will struggle to survive, highlighting how conservation choices should consider the whole ecosystem, not just individual species.

All of the data on the Half-Earth Map can be viewed on a global or local scale. At the local scale, a sidebar provides a snapshot of the area’s habitat types, human pressures, and conservation efforts.

Information about the area being viewed is dynamically drawn from the database, providing deeper insight into the area’s habitat types, human pressures, conservation measures, and local species.

A few tweaks to the landscape mode of the Half-Earth Map have also been made. These changes improve the immersive experience that allows people to connect with the data on a more emotional level. We believe that sparking an emotional connection will encourage people to use the data and create real-world change with the knowledge they gain.

The 3D view is best seen when looking at island or mountainous landscapes.

The 3D view allows you to get a closer perspective of geographic features of an area.

Each iteration of the Half-Earth Map takes us one step closer to identifying the best places to protect the most species. We have the foundation of a tool that will inform global biodiversity conservation decisions, and its potential will only increase as we gather and analyze more data.

The combination of science, technology and design is what sets apart the Half-Earth Project. Together, scientists, designers, user researchers, and developers are creating an experience that’s grounded in data and scientific methodology. By delivering robust data in an emotionally engaging and positive way, we hope to spark the inspiration that leads to real-world action and the conservation of our wonderful, amazing planet.