Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Nature Conservancy atlas aims to show the state of the world's ecosystems

The result of Boucher's work -- a map showing the wetlands and rivers on which 828 freshwater bird species depend -- is part of the Atlas of Global Conservation, a new publication that shows how nature is faring across the globe. Environmental researchers evaluate the state of nature in a number of ways -- by listing the most imperiled species, focusing on particular habitats or detailing the pace of human activities that transform the planet. But mapmaking, which provides a visual account of how different ecological regions are faring, provides one of the most easily accessible ways of depicting of the global environment. The atlas is the work of eight scientists at the Nature Conservancy who three years ago set out to chart everything from the mangroves in Borneo where proboscis monkeys live to the extent of grasslands on Mongolia's steppes, in order to produce 80 detailed maps. "The atlas is telling us what's where, what state it's in, what people are doing to it now -- the big threats, and what we can do to turn it around," said senior marine scientist Mark Spalding of the Conservancy. The maps -- all done on the same scale -- depict a dizzying array of ecosystems, plants and animals across the globe in different stages of depletion. One shows how the human demand for water outstrips the natural supply in dry and crowded regions such as the American West and the Mediterranean basin; another shows how large areas of intact forests cover 10 percent of the earth's land surface, while they once spread over nearly half of it...more

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