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Century-old map of natural world updated

Mon, 7 Jan 2013

A zoological world map showing all known mammals, birds and amphibians has been updated for the first time in more than a century - thanks to a University of East Anglia researcher.

Alfred Russel Wallace, considered the "father of biogeography", published an original version of the map back in 1876. It revolutionised the way people thought about the distribution of life on Earth and became the backbone for our understanding of global biodiversity.

But now Dr Ben Holt, from UEA’s school of Biological Sciences and the University of Copenhagen, has produced a ‘next generation’ version of Wallace’s pioneering map.

It is the first study to combine evolutionary and geographical information for all known mammals, birds and amphibians - a total of more than 20,000 species.

The map, published in the journal Science, reveals the diversity of life on the planet and will inform conservation work.

Dr Holt, who led the research project, said: “Our study is a long overdue update of one of the most fundamental maps in natural sciences.

“For the first time since Wallace’s attempt we are finally able to provide a broad description of the natural world based on incredibly detailed information for thousands of vertebrate species.”

The new map is the result of 20 years of data compilation involving 15 international researchers, hundreds of thousands of distribution records for species across the globe, and modern technology such as DNA sequencing.

It highlights the distinctiveness of three broad areas - the Panamanian, Sino-Japanese and Oceanian realms - and expands the total number of realms from Wallace's original six.

Image: Black-and-white ruffed lemur, part of the lemur family, which are only found within the “Madagascan” realm. Credit: Frank Vassen
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