After 14 Years, Google Maps Of Biodiversity Was Launched


LifeGate shows all the diversity of life at a glance. Users can zoom into any area until they reach species level. Credit: Martin Freiberg/LifeGate

If you want to find the name of a good steakhouse in the city you are visiting, you can check Google Maps. If you want to find the name of the parent of the red fox closet, you have to pull LifeGate. At least, that’s how designer Martin Freiberg sees it.

“Going forward, every online search for animals, plants or bacteria will start with LifeGate,” Freiberg said. “It should become the Google Maps of biodiversity. »


LifeGate is a new interactive map, but it’s taxonomy rather than geographic: when you zoom in, you see photos of a species’ closest relative. When you zoom out, you see which taxon the species you are looking at belongs to and which other groups it is related to.

Freiberg, curator of the Botanical Garden at the University of Leipzig and member of the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), started working on LifeGate in 2008 as a teaching/study tool for his students.

“Images are more memorable than just numbers and make the subject of biodiversity more accessible,” Freiberg said. “That is why the map also fascinates amateurs and laymen. It’s not just biologists who go to the zoo. »

Biologists describe the phylogenetic evolution and relationships of living organisms in what are called phylogenies. Only modern phylogenies already based on DNA analyzes have found their way into LifeGate. These depictions are usually limited to individual groups of species and show only birds or frogs, only begonias, orchids or only butterflies, for example. However, Freiberg brought the phylogenies together – in great detail – so that the relational positions of all species could be shown at once. This includes Homo sapiens, represented by a photo of Freiberg and his young daughter, which can be found in class Mammalia, order Primates, family Hominidae (great apes), genus Homo.

“Because LifeGate is not limited to a single group, this is the first time that relationships between species can be depicted,” he says. “I wanted to build LifeGate in a way that all species were of equal value and the incredible diversity of species could truly be experienced and understood. »

Although LifeGate displays the full diversity of life in a single interactive map, it is still a work in progress. It is currently home to 2.6 million known species with 420,000 photos already live. But, the underlying database contains 12 million photos of more than 6,000 citizens around the world. Currently, there are many photos of some species, but not others. This is subject to change as new images are added to the map every day.

With the proper support in programming, project management and ongoing funding, Freiberg says he has even more planned for LifeGate in the future. He plans to allow users to choose different photo views for each species, such as eyes or ears, or looking sideways. It would also include photos of droppings, footprints and more.

At its core, LifeGate is a teaching tool, so classroom lessons and even virtual “trips” are also possible future avenues. The possibilities seem endless when access to 2.6 million species of the animal kingdom is just a click away.

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