vrijdag 13 september 2013

Terrestial Ecoregions on Selborne

Selborne is a website that allows users to log backyard observations of the natural world. But it also aims to couple these annotations with large scale environmental datasets on for instance ecology, land type, land use and pollution. The first addition to Selborne of such data is information on 'terrestial ecoregions' taken from data found on the website of the Nature Conservancy. You can find it in the menu that appears when you hover over the logo on the top-right of the screen.
Terrestrial: Pertaining to land.

Ecoregion: "Ecoregions cover relatively large areas of land or water, and contain characteristic, geographically distinct assemblages of natural communities and species. The biodiversity of flora, fauna and ecosystems that characterise an ecoregion tends to be distinct from that of other ecoregions."
There are a few caveats of a technical nature. The data covers the entire globe and this translates 108Mb of GeoJson (the dataformat used). A bit much for an online service and the obvious solution is to turn this data into tiles as has been done elsewhere. It is the sensible approach but I will leave it for another time. 

Instead I have opted to select data for a few areas: Europe, Scandinavia, Madagascar, the Steppes, Papua New Guinea/New Zealand and Ecuador. The smallest of these files is 400Kb (Madagascar), the largest over 4.5Mb (Ecuador). I have more files on my computer but load-time and bandwidth are issues that worry me. 

The approach of loading raw data has its downsides, but it also has its upsides: it has a lot of contour (it looks cool) and it is possible to convey more information. Hover over an area to see 3 different types of information. That is two types more than the data translated to tiles (read images) ever could.    

Let's look a few things of interest.

Iceland: the first image shows how it looks on the standard black and white map in Selborne. I was wondering if I was missing a bit of data but when selecting a different map I saw why data seemed to be missing: there was nothing there, just snow and ice. For all datasets applies that viewing them with different maps adds information. 

Ecuador is a small country with high mountains and high biodiversity. The map shows it but what shows it even more is file size: there is more MB needed for Europe then for the Europe and Scandinavia files combined. That in itself says something about biological and geographical richness. 

 The Netherlands has the same habitat types as large parts of Denmark, France, Belgium and Germany.  The next goal is to add data that is more fine-grained. 

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