Profiles of more than one million species are now available at the click of a mouse, thanks to a splurge of images and other data provided by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. (press release)
The information is part of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), an online database that hopes to create a record of each of the 1.9 million species currently known to biologists. When it launched in 2008, it had just 30,000 species pages (see ‘First chapter of book of life goes live’), but over the past few years EOL has persuaded partners worldwide to upload their own databases to the site, so scientists can access and compare a wealth of taxonomic information in one place. The latest batch of information has pushed the database past the million-species milestone, and includes photos of skin and bones, mounted specimens, and X-rays.
The project shares content with the leviathan of online encyclopaedias, Wikipedia. But Wikipedia itself is not a suitable host for the content in the EOL, says Cynthia Parr, director of EOL’s Species Pages Group. “Scientists don’t get a whole lot of reward for adding information to Wikipedia by hand,” she points out.
Maintaining such a vast online database costs money, of course, and back in 2008 the project was still trying to secure longer-term funding to augment grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Alfred P Sloane Foundation. Since then, EOL has got additional support from several academic institutions, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We’re embedding ourselves into the normal budget of these institutions,” says Parr. The EOL hopes to complete its mammoth task by 2017.
Image: Red eyed tree frog (courtesy of Carey James Balboa/EOL)