The age of discovery, description, and classification of biodiversity is entering a new phase. In responding to the conservation imperative, we can now supplement the essential work of systematics with spatially explicit information on species and assemblages of species. This is possible because of recent conceptual, technical, and organizational progress in generating synoptic views of the earth's surface and a great deal of its biological content, at multiple scales of thematic as well as geographic resolution. The development of extensive spatial data on species distributions and vegetation types provides us with a framework for: (a) assessing what we know and where we know it at meso-scales, and (b) stratifying the biological universe so that higher-resolution surveys can be more efficiently implemented, coveting, for example, geographic adequacy of specimen collections, population abundance, reproductive success, and genetic dynamics. The land areas involved are very large, and the questions, such as resolution, scale, classification, and accuracy, are complex. In this paper, we provide examples from the United States Gap Analysis Program on the advantages and limitations of mapping the occurrence of terrestrial vertebrate species and dominant land-cover types over large areas as joint ventures and in multi-organizational partnerships, and how these cooperative efforts can be designed to implement results from data development and analyses as on-the-ground actions. Clearly, new frameworks for thinking about biogeographic information as well as organizational cooperation are needed if we are to have any hope of documenting the full range of species occurrences and ecological processes in ways meaningful to their management. The Gap Analysis experience provides one model for achieving these new frameworks.