A Very Different Kind of New York City Map

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A new Map Lays Out the City's Habitats

New York City is a town where people peer at maps. From the iconic subway posters to bike path guides to cellphone map apps, geographic information is a crucial tool humans use to navigate this dense metropolis. For the city's non-human species, however, there are other factors that matter as much or more — whether the canopy is leafy, water salty, the elevation high or low.

A new map gives — not a bird's eye view exactly, but a bird's-,plant's- and animal's-view of the city. The Natural Areas Conservancy, a nonprofit that works closely with the city's Parks Department, has created a habitat map of New York City's natural spaces, identifying where forests, grasslands, wetlands and open water are located. In the future, the organization plans to add more granular information, including photos and information on plants that visitors can find. 

The data came from a massive biodiversity study the organization began in 2014.  For six months, some 25 biologists traipsed through 10,000 acres of city parkland to get a sense of the health of the spaces, and marked the perimeters of the different habitats.

The researchers found "reams and reams of information" including 750 different plant species, according to Helen Forgione, the senior project manager for ecological assessment at the conservancy.

"Now we have a very good picture of the health and the threats of these natural communities so that we can start to apply this information towards management of these places and increasing their overall condition," she said.

Forgione hopes the map will inspire people to see their city not just as buildings and streets, but as a series of habitats, each supporting unique plants and animals, like birds that only nest in the salt marshes along Pelham Bay. 

"If you lose those salt marshes, those birds won't have any other place to nest and breed," she said.