ArcGIS Living Atlas

A New Map of World Terrestrial Ecosystems

Long before coming to Esri, I worked on studying, protecting, and restoring the Florida Everglades. Most of us appreciate how unique this ecosystem is and why it is so deserving of conservation. But if someone asked, how would you describe the Everglades? Coastal wetlands, swamp, subtropical wilderness, a river of grass? These characterizations are either too generic or subjective for many applications. If we wanted to identify other areas around the world for conservation that have similar ecosystem structure, how might that be done?

An important first step in that process has been undertaken by a team of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, and Esri. The result is a map of World Terrestrial Ecosystems, broken down into 431 classes based on the unique combinations that arise from a massive union of global data layers on temperature, precipitation, landforms, and vegetation/land cover. The 250-m per pixel resolution also provides a level of detail necessary for practical land management. First reported in Global Ecology and Conservation , the map of World Terrestrial Ecosystems is now available in Living Atlas of the World as an analytical layer, an ArcGIS Pro Package download, or as a standalone GeoTIF.


Conserving Similar Ecosystems

If we take the Everglades as an example, we can see that it is composed of

Ecosystem map and extent of the Florida Everglades

The vast majority is Sub Tropical Moist Shrubland on Plains, where subtropical moist is the climate, grassland is the land cover, and plains is the landform.

Isolating just that one class in ArcGIS Pro, we can quickly identify other similar areas to the Everglades. While there are sporadic areas around the world, such as in Southeast Asia, we can see a few major clusters of the same ecosystem, including the Iberá Wetlands (Argentina), Bangweulu Wetlands (Zambia), and coastal Louisiana. By layering the UNEP World Database of Protected Areas from Living Atlas, we can see the extent (or lack thereof) of protection for these areas.

animated gif of areas similar to the Everglades and their protection status

An On-Going Mapping Effort

The World Terrestrial Ecosystems map is latest of this collaboration between USGS, Esri and others in developing global ecosystem mapping, such as the Ecological Land Units and Ecological Marine Units already available in Living Atlas, along with future projects on coastal, freshwater, and benthic ecosystem mapping.

Roger Sayre, Ph.D., Senior Scientist for Ecosystems at the USGS Land Change Science Program led the team from Esri and The Nature Conservancy to produce this global dataset. You can read more about the development of the World Climate Regions and World Terrestrial Ecosystems maps in these Story Maps by Deniz Karagulle, one of the lead investigators on the project, or at the USGS Global Ecosystems website.

For questions of comments about this blog or the World Terrestrial Ecosystem map, please visit our GeoNet.


About the author

Dan leads development of ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World environmental content, which includes information about Earth's land, ocean, atmosphere, and ecosystems. Prior to Esri, Dan worked at NOAA for two decades, leading data visualization efforts for research, communications, and education.


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