Kew’s GIS Unit releases interactive global map of plant family and genera data
The new map uses the latest in mapping technology to reveal more about the diversity of the world's plant life.
03 Mar 2010
A world view of plant diversity, overlaid in Google Earth (Image: Google)
Kew’s Vascular Plant Families & Genera Database is the fruit of two years exclusively spent trawling through millions of Herbarium specimens and reference materials. Now, in a first for Kew, the information it holds has been given a visual and interactive presence through the use of Google’s mapping technology.
The new interactive map, produced by Kew’s GIS (geographical information systems) team, shows at-a-glance which regions of the world are the most – and least – diverse in terms of the numbers of plant genera and families they contain, and makes it possible to explore visually the diversity of plant life across the world. It also allows scientists to interact with the data in new and novel ways, and helps to reveal spatial relationships which may otherwise have remained hidden.
Google Earth and Google Maps have revolutionised the way we present our plant and conservation data to decision makers, scientists and the general public.Steve Bachman, Plant Conservation Analysis, Kew GIS Unit.
New mapping technology such as that provided by Google Earth has made a huge difference to the way Kew’s botanists deal with the vast amount of plant data they collect. Indeed, Google Earth is one of the most valuable tools currently used by Kew’s GIS Unit, and in 2005 it helped in the discovery of the previously unmapped ‘lost forest’ of Mount Mabu in Mozambique.
Kew’s GIS Unit plans, as its global plant checklist matures, to add more resolution to the map, both taxonomically (to species level) and spatially (moving to country and then point data).
Mapping the world’s plant life – Kew’s GIS team
Kew was the first major botanical institution to set up a permanent GIS unit, and today the team create an amazing array of high-tech maps to help Kew’s botanists locate and conserve endangered plants around the world. Much information comes from satellite imagery showing vegetation cover and ground temperature. Detail is added from a variety of sources, including data gathered by botanists in the field, aerial photographs, historic records and Herbarium collections – sometimes dating back over a century.
The resulting maps – often comprising layer upon layer of complex data – allow botanists, conservationists and governments to build up a picture of plant species and habitats across the world. By using historic data it is possible to see how the distribution of plant populations has changed over time, often as a result of habitat destruction and climate change. The location of rare plants or endangered habitats can be plotted and assessed to identify conservation priorities, and maps such as these can also help botanists to identify where new species may be found.
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