Jennifer Molnar, Conservancy senior scientist
No one has ever tried to collect everything we know about nature on planet Earth — until now.
The Atlas of Global Conservation -- published last year by The Nature Conservancy and University of California Press -- is the go-to resource for anyone interested in nature and conservation -- from rivers to oceans, from mountains to deserts to grasslands.
With more than 100 full-color maps and charts as well as essays by leading conservation thinkers, the brings together for the first time such information as:
“No other resource like this exists,” says Jennifer Molnar, a lead author for the Atlas. “It describes our world in more detail than has ever been thought possible.”
To create the Atlas, a team of Nature Conservancy scientists asked researchers and conservationists around the globe to share their information. The response was overwhelmingly generous, says lead author Jonathan Hoekstra.
Individuals and institutions offered up entire databases — in some cases, the results of a life’s work. In other instances, the team became scientific sleuths, tracking down answers to fill the gaps in our knowledge.
“It was easy to get data for the United States, parts of Australia, Europe,” says Hoekstra. “But for Russia? Latin America? The team had to be creative in finding those experts.”
The team also consulted centuries-old archives, Google maps — even the Swedish army, which contributed an equation on how quickly humans move in natural areas. Ultimately, the Conservancy collected and incorporated the work of some 70 institutions representing hundreds — possibly thousands — of scientists, says Hoekstra.
Behind each map lies a database, searchable kilometer by kilometer and assembled on a consistent framework so that maps can be compared against one another.
With The Atlas of Global Conservation, readers can take measure of their own place in the world, not only by longitude and latitude but also by the types of habitats surrounding them, by the species that flourish at home but not elsewhere, and by the amount of conservation that has been done — or could be.
The atlas breaks critical new ground in global mapping, for the first time delineating specific freshwater and marine systems such as salt marshes and kelp forests. It also includes first-ever maps of where high concentrations of freshwater birds, seabirds and marine mammals occur.
"For the first time, all this science is in one place," says Molnar. "We are putting global information in the hands of scientists and readers, to analyze and combine in new ways."
And although the atlas documents widespread destruction of natural areas, it also highlights where the diversity of life continues to thrive.
Perhaps most importantly, the atlas offers readers a chance to assess the natural world without the filter of someone else’s opinion about what is or is not important.
“You can see and judge the facts for yourself,” says Hoekstra. “This is it — take a look at your world.”February 15, 2013