Never has knowledge of the world’s biodiversity knowledge been more at your fingertips, thanks to a new smartphone app created by a partnership between the University of Florida and Yale University. No matter where you are, the Map of Life app can tell you what species of plants and animals are nearby.

Florida Museum associate curator Rob Guralnick helped lead the Map of Life app.

Building on the Map of Life website’s unrivaled, integrated global database of everything from bumblebees to trees, the app tells users in an instant which species are likely to be found in their vicinity. Photos and text help users identify and learn more about what they see. The app also helps users create personal lists of observations and contribute those to scientific research and conservation efforts.

“We hope that the Map of Life app, built from 100 years of knowledge about where species are found, will accelerate our ability to completely close the many gaps in our biodiversity knowledge,” said Rob Guralnick, associate curator at the University of Florida, who lead the project with Walter Jetz, a Yale University associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the guiding force behind Map of Life.

Instead of sifting through hundreds of pages in a printed field guide, naturalists get a digital guide that is already tailored to their location. With a novel modeling and mapping platform covering tens of thousands of species — everything from mammals and birds to plants, amphibians, reptiles, arthropod groups, and fish — Map of Life presents localized species information via maps, photographs, and detailed information. The National Science Foundation and NASA provided initial support for the Map of Life. Google and Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung also have supported the project.

Thanks to a recording feature, citizen scientists everywhere can log their bird encounters and dragonfly sightings directly into the app and add to the biodiversity data available to scientists around the world.

“Think of a field guide that continues to improve the more we all use it and add to it. That is the beauty of this mobile application, and its great strength,” said Guralnick, an associate curator of informatics at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

Indeed, making it easier and more globally streamlined for citizen scientists to contribute information is one of the key motivations behind creating the app.

“The world is changing rapidly and species continue to disappear before we even knew where they existed, what role they had, and how we could conserve them,” said Jetz, who is director of the Yale Program in Spatial Biodiversity Science & Conservation and is involved in several global science initiatives for advancing biodiversity monitoring.

“Too much of our knowledge is limited to too few places and species,” Jetz said. “Helping people everywhere to identify and then record biodiversity carries the potential to hugely extend the geographic and taxonomic reach of measuring the pulse of life.”

The Map of Life app is available in six languages for iPhone and Android smartphones. For more information about the app, visit the website.

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By Jim Shelton

• Learn more about the Map of Life project.

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