Interactive Maps in R

Being able to produce interactive maps on the fly can greatly speed up exploratory analysis and is a useful tool for displaying data that would be less informative on a static map.

Leaflet is an open source JavaScript library that is used to create interactive maps on websites. In this post we will look at the the leaflet R package and create some cool interactive maps!


The leaflet R package can be installed from CRAN by running:



Creating a basic interactive map is simple!

leaflet() %>%

The Leaflet R package has been designed to be used with pipes (%>%), which makes it easy to add layers and controls such as a scale bar and a mini map.

Most of the time however we will have an area or a study site that we are interested in that we want to view:

leaflet() %>%
  addTiles() %>%
  addScaleBar() %>%
  setView(lng = 151.2, lat = -33.86, zoom = 10) %>%


Lets plot some species occurence data from GBIF using the rgbif package: We will be displaying all eucalypt observations within the Macquarie Marshes region:

## Getting the data
# install.packages('gbif')
gbif_query <- occ_search(
  genusKey = 7493935,
  geometry = rgbif::gbif_bbox2wkt(minx = 147.8, miny = -30.6, maxx = 147.4, maxy = -31)
euc <- gbif_query$data
euc$label <- paste(euc$name, "|", euc$vernacularName, "|", euc$year, "-",[euc$month])
## Warning: Unknown or uninitialised column: `vernacularName`.
## Creating a map
base <- leaflet() %>%
  addTiles() %>%
  addScaleBar() %>%
  setView(lat = mean(euc$decimalLatitude), lng = mean(euc$decimalLongitude), zoom = 10)

base %>% addMarkers(
  lng = euc$decimalLongitude, lat = euc$decimalLatitude,
  label = euc$label

Clustering markers

Nice! but it is a bit cluttered, we can add clustering by specifying the clusterOptions argument to try and solve this issue:

base %>%
    lng = euc$decimalLongitude, lat = euc$decimalLatitude,
    clusterOptions = markerClusterOptions(),
    label = euc$label

Colouring markers

You can also add circle markers which can have custom colours, and add a legend:

color_function <- colorFactor("RdYlBu", domain = NULL)

base %>%
    lng = euc$decimalLongitude, lat = euc$decimalLatitude,
    color = color_function(euc$name),
    label = euc$label
  ) %>%
  addLegend(pal = color_function, values = euc$name)

Other stuff to try out!

  • addMeasure() adds a ruler and an area estimator control to the map
  • addProviderTiles() Other tiles (base maps) can be added by using this function. Try out: leaflet() %>% addProviderTiles(provider = providers$CartoDB) !
  • addLayersControl() adds a selector for choosing multiple layers if you have added them.
  • addRasterImage() creates an image overlay from raster data!
  • addGeoJSON() adds GeoJSON polygons to the interactive map!


Author: John Wilshire

Year: 2016

Last updated: Feb 2022