RESOURCES: Cartography of Life

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Science  27 Sep 2002:
Vol. 297, Issue 5590, pp. 2175
DOI: 10.1126/science.297.5590.2175c

How will global warming shift the distribution of tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever? How much should we worry about the spread of the Amur snakehead, a land-crawling, predatory native Asian fish that recently turned up in a Maryland pond? Join the Lifemapper network, and your computer can help ecologists crack questions like these in its spare time.

The distributed computing project at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, amasses data on specimens from museums and other biodiversity databases, along with environmental variables such as climate, elevation, and tree cover. Lifemapper then determines the actual and possible range of particular species or subspecies, delegating the number crunching to idle desktop machines running the project's screensaver. This Lifemapper analysis, for example, shows ample habitat for the Amur snakehead in the United States. Get the beta version of the screensaver here.

If you want to create your own maps instead of donating computer time, try this interactive atlas from the United Nations Environment Programme. Chart an assortment of variables, from freshwater fish diversity to photosynthetic activity, as well as characteristics of the human population that affect biodiversity, such as density and dietary staples. The maps are an online complement to the U.N.'s World Atlas of Biodiversity, a encyclopedia of life released in August.

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