top of page

Mapping The Extinction of Species


So this article might be a bit different. I really like to promote the fields where visualization needs to be expanded more. This is one of those topics. So expect a lot more science, and more ideas of what you could do to help. 

What is an Endangered or Extinct Species?

An Endangered species is a type of organism of animal that is threatened by extinction. Species become endangered either from a loss of habitat or genetics. This can either happen naturally or through unnatural changes in the Earth's environment. 

An Extinct species is one that no longer exists. It is considered when the species no longer has the ability to reproduce and restore itself to a stable state, or no animals from that species are currently alive.

Endangered Species

Here are some facts about endangered species and the current conservation efforts surrounding them. 

There are several laws around the world protecting endangered species. For example, in America, The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted by Congress in 1973.  Under this act the federal government has the responsibility to protect endangered species, threatened species, and critical habitat areas for those species. They also look into species that might be endangered or threatened in the coming years. As soon as a species is considered endangered all harm against it is forbidden. This law is both good and bad. This law allows the federal government to have the upper hand and reverse any developments the states might do to a wildlife park. But it also allows them to permanently sign off on building developments and corporations asking to  take advantage of those habitats. And sometimes the government can be a bit unaware of how the ecosystem changes from state to state.  Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service oversees the listing and protection of all land animals. The NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service oversees marine fish and underwater wildlife.  When deciding to protect a species The Endangered Species Act considers these questions:

  • Has a large percentage of the species' vital habitat been degraded or destroyed?

  • Has the species been over-consumed by commercial, recreational, scientific or educational uses?

  • Is the species threatened by disease or predation?

  • Do current regulations or legislation inadequately protect the species?

  • Are there other man-made factors threatening the long-term survival of the species?

Because of this act, America's favorite bird, The Bald Eagle was saved from extinction. In the 1960s, pesticides and chemicals were being ingested by these birds. This caused them to lay eggs with extremely thin shells. These shells would often break under the weight of the mother sitting on her eggs, and also reduce protection from the elements. Around this time only around 500 bald eagles were left, now over 7,000 exist in the wild today.

Canada has been slower to help preserve its wildlife. In 2002, The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was created. The only reason this act exists is because of the commitments that Canada agreed upon at the International Convention on Biological Diversity that same year. However, there are perks to this act to protect the wildlife in the most unbiased way possible. The act is to further prevent endangered wildlife from disappearing, recover the ones that are no longer needed, and to manage species of special concern. This law also uses independent researchers to assess habitat damage, and let the government know which species they should be protecting. Whether that be a flower, tree, animal, or other creature. SARA also has several public outreach programs as well. The Habitat Stewardship Program is one of these. It supports public awareness for species in their areas, and provides funding for people wanting to protect animals. It was founded in 2000, and was incorporated into SARA after it was created. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) oversee where the funding for this program goes. 

In Europe, The Habitats Directive was founded in 1992. It was founded to maintain the floral and fauna of Europe, and works with The Bird Directive that was founded in 1979. It is the oldest environmental law in the EU. The Bird Directive is built around maintaining the bird populations, as well as watching over the 500 species of birds in Europe. It classifies these species with six different areas of concern., which are called Annexes. These Annexes are designed to let people know which birds are endangered, which ones can be hunted, and how countries can protect these birds. This law also requires countries to submit updates on the populations of species in their areas. A similar system is in place for The Habitats Directive. Europe also has something called Natura 2000. This is the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world.  It protects over 18% of Europe's land, and works with 27 countries in the EU. It also has its own online maps and tools for people to see where these areas are. You can use the Natura 2000 Veiwer: HERE


Extinct Species

Here are some facts about the current extinct species in the world, and the preservation efforts behind them. Let's start with The Red List.

The Red List is also known as The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. It was founded in 1964, and has since evolved to become the world's foremost directory of endangered and at risk species facing extinction. It also keeps track of all the current animals, fungus and plants that have gone extinct. It is used by government agencies, wildlife departments, conservation-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs), natural resource planners, educational organizations, students, and the business communities. So it has proven itself extremely useful for documenting the world's biodiversity.


  • According to The Red List in 2021, Mexico is currently leading the world for the most extinct species. During this year it watched 29 species go extinct. (As of June 2021) The next leading country is Brazil. In fact, the regions with the highest endangered and extinction rates are North and South America. There has been a direct correlation between overpopulation and Global Warming and animals disappearing in these parts of the world. 

  • The Red List has also stated that the world's biodiversity is declining. There are more than 134,400 species on The IUCN Red List, with 37,400 of those species threatened with extinction. This includes 41% of all amphibians, 34% of all conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 26% of mammals and 14% of all birds. The world is now facing a global extinction. It is estimated over 1 million species will disappear in the coming decade.

  • Freshwater species of fish and their ecosystems are some of the most critically at risk species on the planet. This is because their habitat usually surrounds human populated areas, and manufacturing areas. The Red List is currently working with IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit (FBU) to assess the current damages to the world's freshwater animals.

  • The next are amphibians. It is estimated that a third of the 6,300 species of amphibians are at risk to disappear over the next decade. Pollutants, invasive species, and dumping are some of the major reasons this risk is occurring.

But there have been major achievements completed with this organization.

The Species Threat Abatement Restoration (STAR) metric is used by The Red List to get a better idea on which species and areas could be saved from extinction. It measures conservation goals, assesses threat levels, and extinction risk targets on a global and local level. This metric is then used to promote awareness on how our impact on the environment could be reduced, and what we will have to do to save certain animals. The data is also shared internationally to land managers, company executives and conservation project implementers. You can check out the STAR metric: HERE.

The organization also measures the recovery of species with something called the IUCN Green Status of Species. This assessment metric is one of the most useful in the world. It measures how a species is recovering, how much of it's environment has been restored, and if it is properly restoring its ecological functions. It also predicts how a species might expand over 100 years in its environment. With this data it will then determine if those animals are viable.  These status updates and information are then shared internationally. 

Currently, they are trying to create a "Barometer of Life" for the planet. This means tracking and documenting the progress of 160,000 + species, so far they have only reached the number of 134,400. There are gaps in their data however. They are fully aware that they need more data regarding plant and fungal species, as well as data on marine life and invertebrates. Currently, they are working with Plants for People initiative, The Global Tree Assessment, UCN SSC's Invertebrate Conservation, Marine Conservation and Plant Conservation Sub-Committees to get these issues resolved. If you'd like to support The Red List's work, you can do so: HERE. If you'd like to check out their datasets you can do so: HERE.

Visualizing Our Lost Species

Even after a creature has died, it is still important to look how it functioned on our planet. In order to understand how our ecosystem might react after a species dies, we need to understand which animals or plants the species fed off of, the predators that relied on it for food, and further actions the animal did to survive. So visualizing it's trace records is highly important. Currently, most of these visualizations are web or browser based applications. Some of them are interactive maps. So we have a long way to go if we'd like something more entertaining to watch or play with.

  • Harvard has been hard at work mapping the ranges of extinct animals. They currently are mapping where these species used to roam, and where the last of them died off. (Based on recorded history) Some of the  more popular animals they have looked at are The Wooly Mammoth, and the Dodo. You can check out their work: HERE.

  • Is also a great example of a visualization project surrounding extinction. They host visuals of data sonification on their site for a project for the University IUAV of Venice in 2015. It uses data from The Red List to visualize creatures that no longer live in this world. The project uses the B Minor Chord to show musically how species extinction accelerated from 1996. The data goes all the way up to 2013. You can check out the project: HERE.

  • Some artists are taking it upon themselves to give this visualization a modern take. Slought, a non-profit company in Philadelphia has helped host some of these artworks. In November 2018, they hosted a talk by Joshua Schuster for "Visualizing Extinction". This talk exhibited photos and the implications of global extinction. There is an audio recording of it, and you can access it: HERE.

If you would personally like to visualize animal data, one program you could use would be CIRCOS. CIRCOS is circular visualization software that is used to create infographics. It has been used in many scientific publications, and in the scientific community as a whole. It was first designed for mapping genetic data, but has since been used for many other fields. Because of this, it is a great way to show how our overall biodiversity is decreasing, or the genetics of extinct animals. You can check out CIRCOS: HERE.


3D Mapping The World's Ecosystems.

Conservation efforts go way beyond re-introducing species, and breeding them back into the wild. Endangered creatures can't survive if their surrounding environment has been destroyed. So mapping how the climate and ecosystem changes over time plays a huge part in how we can make quick decisions on our conservation efforts, as well as which species we can save.

3D mapping of ecosystems has started to spike in recent years.  This is primarily due to new aerial technology and 3D capabilities. Recently, (2018) satellites are being used to complete broad-scale spatial scans of the Earth, and measure certain areas with terrestrial laser scanning. These laser scans are then used to create detailed structures from motion photogrammetry. Which then become digital ecosystems that scientists can evaluate. This is an amazing tool for analyzing biomass in forests, spotting habitats for endangered creatures, monitoring changes, and analyzing forest canopies.

3D modelling and printing also play a huge part in dissecting species, and understanding their biology. As well as helping injured animals recover in comfort. People have 3D printed parts for turtles to protect weakened parts of their shells, and bills for toucans that have lost parts of their beaks in accidents. 3D scans can also safely scan an animal without a zookeeper or scientist disturbing it. With these scans, they can then use them to better understand their biology. Scientists also attach these scanners to drones to scan large areas of forests. They are currently being used to help rebuild rhino populations in Africa.

3D technology is also helping fight poaching. A company called Pembient  is 3D printing fake rhino horns with a biomaterial that mimics keratins in traditional Rhino horns. Then they mass produce these horns and flood the black markets with them. This process has helped reduce demand for real rhino horns. They have made this process so streamline that pretty much any major 3D company can do it.

- There are also some online sites that are helping document animal species and their populations around the world.

  • is one of these sites. It is a web-mapping framework that mostly focuses on ant species. It shows their overall population count, how many species currently exist in an area, and compares areas of the world based on a subfamily or subspecies. So far it displays over 15,000 ant species.

  • is another site. This site is run by a group of researchers scattered across the globe. They are mostly made  up of university graduates and professors determined to document and record biodiversity. They have selective maps for certain species of interest, datasets, biodiversity richness per continent, and much more. They are funded by NASA, The National Science Foundation, and many others.

Some people have also taken upon themselves to map animals at risk. Benjamin Hennig is one of those people. He is currently a Professor at The University of Iceland. He maps endangered wildlife around the world, and also creates diagrams on where the highest threat levels are. You can check out his work: HERE.

Further Thoughts

So considering that 3D scanning and photogrammetry is being used to document animal species and save them, I would guess that it would be fairly easy to import these models and data into Houdini or any 3D software of your choosing. The answer is yes ...yes you can.

Currently there are 3D laser scans of forest data you can download and play with from these sites here. They use the technology previously discussed to obtain this data, and it is free to access. 3D forest (HERE), is a great one.

There are also independent non-profit 3D teams that are partnering with zoos and museums to create high quality and accurate 3D scans to use in educational research. One such team is Digital Life, and they have been hard at work growing their team of visualization artists. You can check them out: HERE.

The iDigBio Portal is also an amazing tool if you wish to search and read about large open source specimens in museums. (HERE) As long as you know the scientific name of the creature you would like to learn about. From there you can see where certain preserved specimens reside, and how many of them are available. This project is directly related to another promising one that is being created by The Florida Museum. This project is called oVert, or The open Vertebrate project. 

OVert aims to create the largest open digital 3D vertebrate anatomy model toolset and dataset in the world. They are partnering with museums and researchers all over the world to scan preserved specimens and digitize them. So far the project is still in its infancy, but it looks rather promising. You can check out the main site: HERE. As well as further details: HERE.

With data like this it is going to become easy for artists to help visualize creatures accurately. As well as simulate them in a physically and interesting way. As well as help others remember what animals used to walk amongst us.



New maps show where humans are pushing species closer to extinction:

Mapping extinction debt highlights conservation opportunities for birds and mammals in the South American Chaco:

Map of Life:

Plant species extinct:

Endangered Species:

Mapping Endangered Species:

The world's extinct and endangered species – interactive map:

2018 Global AZE map:

Mapping extinction debt highlights conservation opportunities for birds and mammals in the South American Chaco:

Global Map Shows New Patterns Of Extinction Risk:

Species at risk:

Mapping extinction risk in the global functional spectra across the tree of life:


Catalogue of the extinct species:

Visualizing and interacting with large-volume biodiversity data using client–server web-mapping applications: The design and implementation of

Lessons From Those We've Lost:

Signs of biological activities of 28,000-year-old mammoth nuclei in mouse oocytes visualized by live-cell imaging:


visualizing the ocean:

Number of Pixels Used in These Photos Is the Number of Animals Left of Each Species Featured:

See The Animals That Have Already Died Off As The Pace Of Extinction Speeds Up:

Endangered Species:


What We’ve Lost: The Species Declared Extinct in 2020;

Space laser will map Earth’s forests in 3D, spotting habitat for at-risk species:

How 3D Tech Is Saving The Animal Kingdom:

Natura 2000:

The Birds Directive:

The Habitats Directive:

Species protection:


Visualizing Extinction:



bottom of page