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WWF Wildfinder Yields New Light on Global Species Diversity

Washington -- Conservationists have long debated whether it is more effective to focus on areas with many unique (endemic) species or on areas with many species overall. A paper authored by scientists from WWF and the University of Virginia and published today in the journal Nature, sheds new light on this debate, finding that conserving places with many endemic species will also conserve overall species richness.

In doing the study, the authors created the world's most comprehensive dataset of the distributions of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. This database is available for free on the World Wildlife Fund Web site through WildFinder, an interactive, map-driven tool. It can be accessed at www.worldwildlife.org/wildfinder.

"This is the first study to take a crack at this question at a global scale," said John Lamoreux, lead author and a scientist at the University of Virginia. "While endemism has long been championed for the protection of narrow-ranging species, our findings demonstrate how beneficial the measure is for the conservation of all vertebrates."

The dataset for the study and WildFinder are the result of a 6-year effort by WWF scientists that brought together hundreds of experts. WildFinder currently includes information for four large groups of species: birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. The information on these species and their distributions comes from published sources, such as field guides and species accounts, and from unpublished sources such as compiled museum records and information held by experts.

"For the first time, geographic information for 26,000 species can be found in one place," said Taylor Ricketts, coauthor and director of science for World Wildlife Fund. "This kind of information is critical for studies in biogeography, conservation biology and natural history. Before WildFinder, finding these data might require a time-consuming search of hundreds of references. Now, they are available with just a few mouse clicks."

WildFinder allows the user to search for wildlife one of two ways: by location or by species. To search by location, one just clicks on any of the world's 825 ecological regions (dubbed "ecoregions") and gets a complete list of the animals living there. You can also search by species, and WildFinder will generate a map showing the ecoregions containing that species. Links throughout the site allow you to save these lists and maps to your computer, download the entire database, find photos of each species, learn about their threat status, or read more about the ecoregions in which they occur.