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Local Ecological Footprinting Tool (LEFT)

October 04, 2016 |


The LEFT tool is free for limited period and for academic use.

Urbanisation, mineral and fuel extraction, and industrial-scale agriculture all leave an ecological footprint in landscapes. These footprints can be large. Although impact assessments are routinely carried out, increasingly as a legal requirement, before land is developed, the usual practice of undertaking field-based assessments can be time-consuming and expensive. It is particularly challenging for multinational businesses that have large-scale globally distributed operations. They need to make rapid but robust assessments of likely damage before committing to any particular area.

The Local Ecological Footprinting Tool (LEFT), is a web-based decision support tool which can help businesses minimise the environmental impacts of their activities when they make decisions about how land is used. A user defines an area of interest anywhere in the world using a web-based map and LEFT automatically processes a series of high-quality datasets using standard published algorithms to produce:

  • maps at 30m resolution of land cover classes
  • numbers of globally threatened terrestrial vertebrate and plant species
  • beta-diversity of terrestrial vertebrates and plants
  • habitat fragmentation
  • wetland habitat connectivity
  • numbers of migratory species
  • vegetation resilience


These results are aggregated to produce a single map of relative ecological value. The tool then generates a customised pdf report and a zip file of GIS data for the area requested. Results are delivered to users by email within a few minutes of job submission. This tool has been designed to be highly intuitive to use, and requires no specialized software or user expertise.

Novice users can submit an analysis within a few minutes and get results which can inform business decisions.


Science Behind the Tool

Each LEFT report contains a detailed description of the analysis process, the specific datasets which have been used with permission in each individual analysis are acknowledged in each report, and the report document contains a reference section.

The following scientific papers provide complete details of the algorithms used to calculate the component maps within LEFT and a validation of the performance of LEFT:

  • WILLIS, K., JEFFERS, E., TOVAR, C., LONG, P., CAITHNESS, N., SMIT, M., HAGEMANN, R., COLLIN-HANSEN, C. & WEISSENBERGER, J. 2012. Determining the ecological value of landscapes beyond protected areas. Biological conservation, 147, 3-12.
  • WILLIS, K., MACIAS-FAURIA, M., GASPARATOS, A. & LONG, P. 2014. Identifying and mapping biodiversity: What can we damage? Nature in the Balance: The Economics of Biodiversity.
  • WILLIS, K. J., SEDDON, A. W., LONG, P. R., JEFFERS, E. S., CAITHNESS, N., THURSTON, M., SMIT, M. G., HAGEMANN, R. & MACIAS-FAURIA, M. 2015. Remote assessment of locally important ecological features across landscapes: how representative of reality? Ecological Applications, 25, 1290-1302
  • SEDDON, A. W., MACIAS-FAURIA, M., LONG, P. R., BENZ, D. & WILLIS, K. J. 2016. Sensitivity of global terrestrial ecosystems to climate variability. Nature, 531, 229-232.

Read on at: LEFT

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