Complete world map of tree diversity | 2/21/2019 | Staff
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Biodiversity is one of Earth's most precious resources. However, for most places in the world, scientists only have a tiny picture of what this diversity actually is. Researchers at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) have now constructed from scattered data a world map of biodiversity showing numbers of tree species. With the new map, the researchers were able to infer what drives the global distribution of tree species richness. Climate plays a central role; however, the number of species that can be found in a specific region also depends on the spatial scale of the observation, the researchers report in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. The new approach could help to improve global conservation.

Around the world, biodiversity is changing dramatically and its protection has become one of the greatest challenges confronting mankind. Researchers still know very little about why some places are biologically diverse while others are poor, and where the most biodiverse places are on Earth. Also, the reasons that some areas are more species-rich than others are often unclear: What role do environmental factors like climate play, and how important are historical factors like past ice ages for the biodiversity we observe today? Current knowledge is based on scattered local surveys and is full of gaps, especially in tropical regions, where biodiversity can be particularly high. Closing all gaps by comprehensively surveying the whole planet, is, however, simply impossible.

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Satellite imagery can close some data gaps, for example, when collating information on forest cover, but these techniques have their limits. "We don't just need to count the trees, we also need to identify what species they are," explains Dr. Petr Keil, lead author of the new study. "In the tropics, we find hundreds of different tree species in a...
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