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Lifemapper: Building a Species Diversity Map of the World

Project PI: James H. Beach, Biodiversity Institute, University of Kansas

Natural History museums are filled with plant and animal specimens, collected over the last several hundred years along with data describing what lived where, and when. Unfortunately, it is difficult for scientists to see the whole picture for even one species because all of the specimens and information aren’t in one place.

Lifemapper, a part of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR Understanding and Forecasting Ecological Change project, is solving this problem. It makes the big picture easily accessible in a web-based application by linking all of the species information into one virtual database.

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With this information, Lifemapper creates maps to show where species live, as seen for the sunflower (helianthus annuus). The tools found at www.lifemapper.org will be increasingly important to scientists interested in assessing the impact of global climate change on wild species, helping them identify research priorities for systematics, ecology and conservation studies.

Not only is this tool now available to scientists, but it is also an easy-to-use tool for teachers and students, and a means of encouraging students to enter scientific fields.

Using Lifemapper, scientists are better able to answer many questions, including: Where does a species most likely live? What conditions are necessary for it to thrive? How will climate change affect it? How will competing species affect it?

A map of where sunflowers live, from the Lifemapper website.


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