Frequently Asked Questions

The UN Biodiversity Lab provides a free, customized, online spatial analysis platform to support conservation and development decision-making around the globe. We are here to support your spatial data needs.

Can’t see an answer to your question in our FAQ? Feel free to contact our support team at On the platform, we have a User Guide available to walk you through key functions and exercises using animated images. You can also access our Guidance Document Library to view and download technical guidance on using the Lab and creating inputs for the Sixth National Report.

Are you interested in submitting a story or contributing data to the UN Biodiversity Lab? If so, see our submission forms here.

Getting Started

  • What is the UN Biodiversity Lab?

    The UN Biodiversity Lab is an impartial online mapping tool which connects biodiversity and socioeconomic data with users to support sustainable development planning and decision-making. In particular, the UN Biodiversity Lab supports stakeholder analysis and reporting for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets. This includes providing data for biodiversity, conservation estates, biodiversity threats, and data related to the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • I’m not part of an organization or government. Can I still access the data?

    Yes! The UN Biodiversity Lab is for anyone who is interested in learning more about mapping and sustainable development. Anyone is welcome to create an account and access our global datasets. In addition to a host of open data layers, the platform includes some data layers from third party organisations which may be subject to use restrictions.

  • I am a policymaker. How can I access my project?

    If you are a policy maker that is involved with the 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, then a project has been automatically created for you. You will need to contact the project administrator to request access. Please contact Christine Supples (, Annie Virnig ( and Bianca Notarbartolo(Bianca to determine who is administrating your national project.

  • Why do I need to log-in or create an account?

    Creating an account gives you greater access to the data and analysis features. This includes the ability to upload and publish data and the ability to create customized views and dashboards with your data. For policymakers who are developing their Sixth National Reports to the Convention on Biodiversity, registering with MapX is the only way to access their national project. If this applies to you, contact us here:

  • How do I create an account?

    Simply enter your email into the login and registration screen. A one-time password will be sent to you by email to login. As MapX takes data security very seriously, we do not rely on user passwords that are vulnerable to hacking. Instead, unique passwords will be generated and sent to your email each time you login. If you use the same computer, and depending on your settings, login may be automatic without requesting a new password. Passwords generated by MapX for each login offer more system security.

  • Is UN Biodiversity Lab open source?

    Yes. The UN Biodiversity Lab data is powered by MapX, an open-source mapping software which collects data from trusted providers. The UN Biodiversity Lab attempts to publish all data with an open license, meaning that you are welcome to explore and share anything you find on the website. However, if data providers have placed certain restrictions on their data sets, some of the functionality of MapX will be reduced for these specific layers (for example, they can be viewed but not downloaded or republished without permission from the original data provider).

  • What data does the UN Biodiversity Lab have?

    The UN Biodiversity Lab highlights biodiversity data, conservation estates, threats to biodiversity, and data related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The biodiversity data includes ecological land use, biodiversity hotspots, key biodiversity areas, species distribution and NASA data. Conservations estates include the World Database on Protected Areas and community conserved areas. Threats to biodiversity include the human footprint, mining, and land use changes. SDG data includes hydrosheds for 3200 cities, poverty, and land tenures. The biodiversity data curated by the UN Biodiversity Lab focuses on helping countries report against five specific Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These include the following:

    • ABT 5: Halve or bring to zero rate of loss of habitats, significantly reduce degradation and fragmentation.
    • ABT 11: Conserve 17% of terrestrial and 10% coastal and marine areas, especially important biodiversity areas, important ecosystem services, through effective, equitable, representative well-connected protected areas and other effective area-based measures and integrated into landscapes and seascapes.
    • ABT 12: Prevent extinctions and improve and sustain species most in decline.
    • ABT 14: Restore and safeguard ecosystems that provide essential services – water, health, livelihoods – especially for women, indigenous peoples, local communities, and poor and vulnerable.
    • ABT 15: Enhance resilience and contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks and restore 15% of degraded ecosystems

    UN Environment, UNDP and WCMC have identified and curated the best available data layers for each of these targets to enable more streamlined analysis and reporting. The list of available data layers may expand in the future.

  • What browser works best with the UN Biodiversity Lab?

    With Mac computers or devices running iOS, you may experience bugs when using Chrome or Firefox browsers. We recommend using Safari on Mac computers while we work on fixing this. For Windows, there is no preferred browser - the only requirement is that HTML5 is supported by the browser. Any version of modern browsers including Microsoft Edge, Chrome and Firefox will work well.

  • How do I search and filter datasets?

    Searching and filtering data are essential to help find what you are looking for. From the sidebar menu, you can filter data either globally or by country. You can also filter by keyword, such as biodiversity, conservation, or protected area. Finally, you can filter by type of dataset, such as vector, raster, story map, or dashboard; collection, project themes such as pollution, risk, or ocean analysis; or classes, terms such as environment, stress, or development.

  • Is the UN Biodiversity Lab interoperable with other geospatial platforms?

    Yes. The platform has the capacity to automatically extract and display data from other available geospatial data sets that comply with the Web Map Service (WMS) standard. This will enable users to import various data sets, ranging from socioeconomic and conflict incidence data, to environmentally sensitive areas and occurrence of natural hazards. They will then be able to use these imported layers conduct further analysis and monitoring. Contact for details.

Tools and Functions

  • What is MapX?

    MapX is an open-source, online mapping platform managed by the United Nations to quickly and easily access and create maps using the best available scientific data. MapX acts as a trusted data broker to help people find spatial solutions to environmental and natural resource challenges. MapX aims to increase the engagement of citizens and stakeholders in the management of natural resources and the environment by powering customized applications and websites that increase access to data and offer a simple toolkit for analysis, visualization and sharing.

  • What is the difference between UN Biodiversity Lab and MapX?

    The MapX data catalogue and toolkit powers applications and websites that offer customized geospatial solutions to specific stakeholder needs and processes. The UN Biodiversity Lab is powered by MapX meaning that MapX hosts and displays all geospatial data included in UN Biodiversity Lab, organised in a global data catalogue and complete with visualization and analytical tools. It has been customized and curated to meet the reporting requirements of the 6th national report for the Convention on Biological Diversity.

  • What is the overlap analysis?

    The overlap analysis, also called overlay or coincidence analysis, calculates the amount of overlap between different views. The analysis itself involves selecting a view, and overlapping another view to both visualize and calculate the area where the views overlap. Overlaps can only be conducted with vector views, one of which must be composed of polygons (as opposed to points or lines).This tool is in development and will be available in Fall 2018.

  • What is the difference between a view and a layer?

    When data is uploaded, it becomes a source layer, which will ultimately be replaced and published as a view. Views are created from source layers for display on the map. The reason for this is that source layers can be featured with multiple variables that cannot be displayed on a map all at the same time. Instead, a view is specifically associated to one specific variable from the attribute table of the source layer. Multiple individual views can be created from the same source layer (see below). Views can be selected and displayed on the map, with abstracts and metadata information originating from the source layer. However, views can be customized beyond the source to suit the project, including restricting views to certain users or countries, styling a legend, or adding a mask.

  • How many variables does one view display? Is there a limit to the number of views I can display on the map?

    Most source datasets have an attribute table, which is composed of multiple columns of data (variables) that cannot be simultaneously viewed on a map. As a result - a “view” in MapX simply shows the visualization of one variable. It is therefore possible to have multiple views of the same data set - with each view representing a different column (variable) in the dataset. There is no limit to the number of views that can be turned on and displayed on MapX simultaneously.

Story Maps

  • What is a story map?

    A story map is a novel way to communicate spatial data by combining a narrative, interactive maps, photos, and videos. Story maps are a simple yet powerful way to inform, engage, and inspire your audience with any story you want to tell that can be referenced on a map. Story maps harness the power of maps by bringing data to life.

    The UN Biodiversity story map engine allows 6NR national teams to independently build story maps without any GIS or programming skills. Story maps can cover a wide variety of subjects and are easy to build by any user.

  • How can I make a story map?

    We recommend storyboarding your story map before developing it on the platform. With each step you should know what the content will include: a title, text, picture, video, and/or spatial data. You should then make sure the data is available within MapX. When you have completed the storyboard, view this link here for a guidance document on building your own story map.

  • How can I share my story map?

    You can click the sharing icon to receive a link to embed the story map into your blog, website, or online content. We are also building the ability to share on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. You can also download the story map as a video which will autoplay for offline access. A 10-slide story map will take 2-3 minutes to autoplay.

National Project

  • What is a national project?

    The national projects are customizable, cloud-based private data pools in which you can create, upload, and share data with other project users. They have been made for each country participating in the 6NR for the Convention on Biological Diversity. They can be public or private to people browsing the platform, and are pre-populated with relevant biodiversity data for reporting on five Aichi Biodiversity Targets. National projects are stored in a secure area of the platform managed by UNDP and UN Environment to ensure that only users with the correct privileges can access the project. Each project is managed by an administrator who determines the access rights for all other users. The administrator also decides who can join the project and which data layers can be published to the project as well as publicly on the UN Biodiversity Lab.

  • What are the functions of a national project?

    Beyond offering a secure data pool for you and your colleagues, creating your own project also offers a suite of additional features. In terms of analysis, you will be able to upload your own data to your project and integrate it with other datasets hosted on the platform. You will be able to customize your project and save it for access from any computer, with any bandwidth. You can also make story maps in our story map engine, using data already available in the platform and your own, combined with photos, videos and narrative. Story maps can be shared with colleagues or on media channels, and can also be downloaded for offline access or presentations.

  • What are the user privileges?

    User privileges determine who can see what views, and also what actions are available with certain views. There are 4 user categories. You will only be able to view or interact with views that corresponds to your user category.

    • Public: Unregistered users, who are not in your national project. The public users will have the most limited interaction with the platform as they are only able to view “public” data.
    • Members: Members can read views and source layers that are set for “public” and “members”. In addition, members can upload source layers and create views that will only be available privately or for “publishers”.
    • Publishers: Users with “publisher” privileges can publish source layers and views for all types of users and can edit those that are available for “public”, “user” and “publisher”.
    • Administrators: Have “publisher” privileges and can also change the status of other accounts. If you are the owner of a project, you have administrator privilege over your project. Project administrators cannot publish publicly beyond their project.

    If you are a policy maker that would like to create a national project managing data linked to a specific project or process this is also easy to do. Please contact Christina Supples (, Annie Virnig (") and Bianca Notarbartolo (Bianca to set-up a national project.

  • What if I am involved in multiple projects ? How can I access each of them?

    If you are involved in multiple projects, when you click the My Projects button, a dropdown menu will ask you to select the project you want to enter. The projects that you are a member of will display at the top.

  • I am a public user. Can I create a personal project?

    For now, project functionality is reserved for 6NR national teams. We hope to expand this to broader user groups soon. If you would like to get into contact with MapX about creating a project for your organization, please contact us at

  • Can I add members to my national project?

    Only administrators can add or remove members to their projects. You will need to consider the level of access that each user should be granted as this will determine their privileges to edit, create, delete and share whatever is in your project.

  • Can I look at other projects? How do I make my national project private?

    Public projects appear in the "List of Projects" dialogue that appears when you navigate to the "My Projects" tab. If you are a registered user, you can still view other projects if they are set to public, and see the views in them only if that view is set to public as well.

    If you would like your national project private, meaning that it will not be displayed in the "List of Projects", navigate to the "Project Configuration" tab located within the Toolbox. At the bottom of this dialogue there is a check box which reads "This project is public. It will be listed in the catalog of projects. All public views published in this project will be readable for everyone." If you unclick this box, your project will now only be accessible to members. Even if your project is public, not all views within it have to be. Each view can be configured ("Configure view") so that read access is restricted to administrators, publishers, members, or the public.

  • How do I find my project?

    Every time you access the “My Projects” tab through the UN Biodiversity Lab, the projects that you are a member of will appear at the top. If you do not have access to your project, make sure that you are logged in with the email that you use to access your project. If you need support to help access to your country project please contact us at or the administrator of your project.

  • Why can’t I see my project?

    Make sure you are logged in to the platform with the same email you used to access your project the first time. You can check by clicking the profile icon in the button that is second from the left corner in the map window. If you still can’t find your project, contact

Using and Uploading the Data

  • Can I upload my own datasets?

    Yes, you can upload data to your project and analyze it with the existing datasets on a global or national scale.

  • What data formats can I upload?

    ESRI Shapefile, GeoJSON, GPX, KML. The recommended format is GeoJSON. ESRI Shapefiles must be zipped.

  • What if my data is in CSV or another format ?

    If your data is an a CSV or other format, you may need to use third party GIS software to convert it. We recommend an open source solution such as QGIS. If you need additional guidance on how to convert your data into a MapX compatible format, please contact

  • What format should my latitude and longitude coordinates be listed in?
    Decimal degrees.

  • Can my data be projected?

    No. The UN Biodiversity Lab does not accept projected data. If you attempt to add projected data, you will receive a warning and the data will not upload.

  • What spatial reference system does UN Biodiversity Lab use?

    WGS 84.

  • How do I upload data?

    Uploading data is as easy as dragging and dropping a zipped file into the platform. Please refer to our walkthrough, available in the "My Projects" tab for a step-by-step guide to uploading data. Or, to access a MapX guidance document, click here.

  • Is there a size limit for data?

    Yes. The drag and drop uploading method has a 100 Mb size limit. The manual upload is 300 Mb per file. Anything larger than this will have to be ingested by our support team - contact us here.

  • What if my data is sensitive?

    You can store sensitive data in your national project, which is secure and managed by the UN Environment and UNDP web management team. When uploading data, you will need to assign viewing rights to your data. These range from “myself”,only you; “members”, everyone in the project; or "administrators" or "publishers" if you do not want it to be displayed to the entire project. These correspond to their user privilege category. As a publisher of a project you have complete control over who interacts with data within your project, which you can upload and control. However you will not be able to publish data publicly. This is reserved for administrators who are able to view and manage public datasets. See more in the user privilege answer.

  • How do I edit or remove data?

    You can only edit or remove data that you have uploaded yourself, unless you are your project's administrator. You can find the edit button in the small toolbar beneath the view title. The edit button is in the shape of a pencil, and the delete button is in the shape of a trash can.

  • Can I add or create graphs with the datasets? What kind of spatial statistics are available?

    You can create graphs in a dashboard using Highcharts library ( The coding dashboard using Highcharts is not straightforward and requires coding skills in JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. Therefore, only users with editing rights (publishers and administrators, see user privilege question) have access to that functionality.

  • Can I publish my data on UN Biodiversity Lab?

    We are always looking for more biodiversity and sustainable development-related data for publication on UN Biodiversity Lab. Data must undergo a vetting process in order to receive a satisfactory integrity seal percentage. If you are interested in publishing your data on UN Biodiversity Lab, please let us know through these submission form.

  • What formats can I export my data into?

    DXF, ESRI Shapefile, GeoJSON, GeoPackage, KML, and SQLite.

Exporting maps

  • How can I generate a map?

    You have two options. You can either "Print Current", the print icon in the top toolbar, which will produce a single PNG of the entire view (the menu will be invisible) and nothing else. Alternatively, you can take a screenshot (camera button located in the view legend beneath the abstract and legend), which will download a zip file containing a legend, a scale, a title, a PNG picture of the map. The download will also include a PDF of the elements combined together for easy presentation.

  • What format can I export the maps into?

    PNG and PDF.

  • Can I customize my map output?

    When you export a map, the zip file will contain three PNG’s: the legend, the map, and the scale. You can customize the shape and size of your map to fit your presentation by resizing these elements. When resizing your map manually, you must resize the scale of your map as well, or inaccuracies will result.

  • How should I cite the map?

    We recommend this format:

    UN Biodiversity Lab. Title [Format]. Data Date. Scale. Name of Person Who Generated Map. Name of Software. URL. (Date Accessed).

    Example: UN Biodiversity Lab. Mangrove Forest Soil Organic Carbon [PDF]. 2018. 1:25,000. Generated by James Bond. MapX. link to map. (19 June 2018).

Metadata and Citations

Data Policy and Integrity

  • What is the data integrity assessment framework?

    All uploaded data undergoes the data integrity assessment framework, at the discretion of the data uploader. The integrity of each data layer is assessed using a standardized set of questions for each of the following four categories: (1) Reliability; (2) Technical Accessibility; (3) Openness; and (4) Sustainability. The level of compliance with each element of the data integrity standards is established in the course of the assessment. The results are contained within a database that is managed by UN Biodiversity Lab, together with data custodians. Following completion of the data integrity assessment, the results of the assessment are shared with the data custodians who are given the opportunity to take remedial actions to improve results prior to publication of the data sets and corresponding data integrity scores. You can access each public view's data integrity assessment score in the metadata. To learn more, access the guidance document here.

  • Where does the data come from?

    The UN Biodiversity Lab acts as an impartial, trustworthy data broker for over 10 premier research institutions, including Alliance for Zero Extinctions, Birdlife International, FAO, GEO BON, IUCN, JRC (DOPA), Montana State University, NASA, NOAA, Northern Arizona University, RAMSAR, SEDAC/CIESIN/Columbia University, UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, University of Northern British Columbia, University of Oxford, University of Queensland, USGS, and more. The source of each dataset can be found within the metadata.

  • Can I share my findings?

    Yes - the UN Biodiversity Lab is open source. We encourage you to share your findings. If you choose to license it, we recommend choosing an open source license in order to keep spatial data in the realm of public sharing.

  • What data licenses do you suggest?

    The UN Biodiversity Lab promotes the use of licenses developed by the Creative Commons Foundation and the Open Data Foundation, which have been developed for sharing databases. We are currently developing a more strategic data license information page.

  • What should I do if I believe a dataset is inaccurate?

    We are always looking to improve our data. If you are experiencing issues with a dataset or believe it is outdated or inaccurate, please contact our support team here.

  • Does the UN Biodiversity Lab conform to OGC standards?

    Currently it does not, although we are working towards conforming to OGC standards of open data. All data published in UN Biodiversity Lab is published in GeoServer in formats compatible with OGC standards: WMS, WFS, WCS. The UN Biodiversity Lab team is also working to align the platform with the CSW standard, which will then complete the above list with a fourth format compatible with OGC standards.