photo by Renegade
In a whale-sized project, the world's scientists plan to compile everything they know about all of Earth's 1.8 million known species and put it all on one Web site, open to everyone.
The effort, called the Encyclopedia of Life, will include species descriptions, pictures, maps, videos, sound, sightings by amateurs, and links to entire genomes and scientific journal papers. Its first pages of information will be shown Wednesday in Washington where the massive effort is being announced by some of the world's leading institutions. The project will take about 10 years to finish.
"It's an interactive zoo," said James Edwards, who will be the encyclopedia's executive director. Edwards currently helps run a global biodiversity information system.
If the new encyclopedia progresses as planned, it should fill about 300 million pages, which, if lined up end-to-end, would be more than 52,000 miles long, able to stretch twice around the world at the equator.
Two foundations have given $12.5 million to pay for the first 2 1/2 years of the massive effort, but it will be free and accessible to everyone.
The pages can be adjusted so that they provide useful information for both a schoolchild and a research biologist alike, with an emphasis on encouraging "citizen-scientists" to add their sightings. While amateurs can contribute in clearly marked side pages, the key detail and science parts of the encyclopedia will be compiled and reviewed by experts.
"It could be a very big leap in the way we do science," said Cristian Samper, acting secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, one of seven museums, universities and labs to launch the encyclopedia. "This is a project that is so big, not even the Smithsonian, could do it by itself. It is a global effort."
For more than a decade, scientists have tried to compile even just a list of all species on Earth, but failed. It's been too complicated, too expensive and too cumbersome. This effort may succeed where the others have faltered because of new search engine technology, the scientists said.
I can't wait until they get this project up and running... what an excellent resource this will be for everyone!
What interests me the most is the combination of un-editable encyclopedia quality information and user-based wiki-style areas for you and I to contribute to... all on the same page! No more will we have to worry if our information source has been tainted by one misinformed or biased user contribution... but at the same time, users will not be prohibited from adding to the database.
Think about it... one user sighting that is added to the site could effectively change the borders of that animal's range. For instance... I recently caught a snake in my yard and took a few photos (see above). I pulled the snake's photo up and went searching the Snakes of Louisiana website. Sure enough, I found what I was looking for: Texas Rat Snake. Funny thing, though... their range map shows the snake's range ending more than 50 miles west of me, on the other side of the Mississippi River! With the new Encyclopedia of Life website, the range map could be updated by the experts thanks to my sighting. Now, that's science that makes sense!