Choosing life on Mars

GBIF goes extraterrestrial in a study searching for plants suitable for Mars terraforming

Terraforming Mars
Terraforming Mars by Daein Ballard, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Home to millions of species, Earth is the only planet in our solar system able to sustain life as we know it. Travelling to and settling on other planets, like Mars, remains a fascination of humans, however, one that will require bringing hardy oxygen-producing plants to the Red Planet from Earth.

This study explores the potential of Mars terraforming through a suitability analysis identifying places on Earth with Mars-like environments, i.e. the coldest, driest and sunniest places on the planet, and using GBIF-mediated occurrences in these locations to identify relevant species likely to withstand hostile Martian environments.

Having the most Mars-like conditions, The Antarctic Peninsula and Ellesmere and Devon Islands in the Arctic were the focus of a vegetation analysis, in which the authors identified 21 tracheophyte and bryophyte genera with significantly higher proportions of occurrences within two of the study areas.

Further analysis indicated that the Arctic areas might be the better option in terms of finding suitable vegetation for Mars terraforming—and pointed to Bluegrass (Poa) as the most promising genus for further studies.

Original article

Vaz E and Penfound E (2020) Mars Terraforming: A Geographic Information Systems Framework. Life Sciences in Space Research. Elsevier BV 24: 50–63. Available at: