Where’s Wallace? An iconic map draws new life from DNAWednesday, January 2nd, 2013
Late in the 19th century, about a decade after co-publishing a paper with Charles Darwin on natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace set out to categorize all the animals in the world. The results of his efforts, The Geographical Distribution of Animals, was published in 1876 and remains, even today, the starting point for zoogeographic research and the basis for understanding global biodiversity.
In 2012, scientists at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen decided to update Wallace’s map by including information not only about ancestral relationships among species, as Wallace did, but also their evolutionary relationships, using phylogenetic information – data derived from DNA – gathered over the past few decades.
The new map, which was featured in the journal Science, uses Google Earth and GIS software and covers more than 20,000 species of mammal, bird and amphibian. It allows users to refine the data by geographic detail and by animal class, making it a powerful tool for asking questions about a broad range of macroecological topics, from biodiversity and climate to evolution and phylogenesis.
Jean-Philippe Lessard worked on the project at the Center in Copenhagen and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Quebec Centre for Biodiversity Science at McGill University. He hopes that the map will contribute broadly to efforts in global conservation planning.
“The map provides important baseline information for future ecological and evolutionary research,” he notes. “It also has major conservation significance in light of the ongoing biodiversity crisis and global environmental change.”