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Spring 2006
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Making Available 500,000 Records About 26,000 Species

World Wildlife Fund Launches WildFinder Portal

From working to save the giant panda to establishment and management of parks and reserves, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been a conservation leader for more than 40 years. With more than five million members worldwide, WWF is the world's largest privately financed conservation organization. Based in Washington, D.C., WWF works in more than 100 countries around the world and directs its conservation efforts toward three goals: saving endangered species; protecting endangered habitats; and addressing global threats, such as toxic pollution, overfishing, and climate change.

  click to enlarge
A WildFinder map showing which ecoregions are home to the greatest variety of bird species.

Designing a conservation strategy requires in-depth understanding of the relative importance of habitats and the stresses affecting them. A decade ago, conservation groups began working to establish an information base for making comparisons and chose the term ecoregion to represent and identify approximately 825 distinct habitat types around the globe. As WWF prepared its systematic plan, it also kept track of the total number of species living in each ecoregion. This helped the organization prioritize and identify important areas but did not provide enough detail for the scientists involved in planning decisions.

"Our scientists commented that we lacked actual data to identify which species were present," says Wes Wettengel, WWF GIS manager. "So we started the journey of identifying the actual species that live in the ecoregions we had created." WWF began working with other organizations to gather and compile a database of the species found in each ecoregion. Building the Oracle database took five years and included information on more than 26,000 species. Contributors included the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International; the Nature Conservancy; the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union (IUCN); and the Zoological Museum at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, plus a long list of individuals who contributed unpublished data and other knowledge. The species list and ecoregion designations together comprise more than 500,000 records.

Faced with the challenge of making such a large body of information useful, WWF decided that an interactive map accessible via the Internet would most efficiently reach the widest range of people. WWF was already using Esri software for research endeavors, so it contacted Esri to set up a Web-based mapping service for its database.

Esri personnel put WWF in contact with Blue Raster, an Esri Business Partner experienced in the use of ArcWeb Services. Blue Raster coded the interface between WWF's database and the ArcWeb Services. The service gives WildFinder access to maps and set up the WildFinder portal on WWF's Web site. The final product allows WWF to maintain control over its own database while Esri maintains and updates all geographic information, charging a per-usage fee when a visitor to WildFinder makes a map.

The service gives WildFinder access to up-to-date maps without WWF having to purchase or store them and eliminates the overhead of paying for equipment and technical personnel to manage them.

"The on-demand model allows WWF to pay per transaction so its money goes further and the organization can concentrate on its interest, which is preserving wildlife," says Michael Lippmann, Blue Raster vice president.

Visitors to the WildFinder site (www.worldwildlife.org/wildfinder) can type a ZIP Code, city, country, or other location information to produce a list of animals found in a specific place. They can also search for a specific bird, mammal, reptile, or amphibian and produce global maps of its habitat range, identify its endangered status, and search for images on the Web. A selection of static prepared maps displaying species richness and endemism worldwide is also available.

WildFinder gives students, nature enthusiasts, and scientists a powerful search tool to find and map WWF information in the database. For instance, travelers planning a trip to the islands of Bocas del Toro in the Republic of Panama can get a preview of animals they might see. A search identifies the ecoregion as Isthmian-Atlantic moist forest and lists more than 1,000 species found there, including the great green macaw. Clicking on the bird's scientific name, Ara ambigua, creates a list of seven ecoregions where the bird can be found and displays a map of its range between Honduras and coastal Ecuador. A click on its endangered status (vulnerable) links to the green macaw entry on the Red List, the IUCN's compilation of endangered species information.

From the Map Gallery page, users can print or download static global information maps. Though data from the Web site is not currently available for recompiling into a database for analysis, WWF does invite those interested in working with the full or partial database to contact WWF.

For more information, visit WildFinder on the Web (www.worldwildlife.org/wildfinder). Visit www.blueraster.com for more information about Blue Raster. ArcWeb Services information is available by visiting Esri at www.esri.com/arcwebservices.

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