A Web Page for Each of the World’s Creatures
By Stephen Leahy
May 10 (IPS) – Scientists launched a global initiative Thursday called the “Encyclopedia of Life” that will document the Earth’s 1.8 million known species and track the impacts of habitat loss and climate change.
The ambitious electronic encyclopedia will catalogue the details of every species thus far identified and put all this information on the Internet so anyone can access it.
“This will be a fantastic resource for the developing world,” said James Edwards, the new executive director of the Encyclopedia of Life project headquartered in Washington at the Smithsonian Institution.
Until now, researchers and students from the South had to travel to the big 10 natural history museums located in the North to learn about species in their own countries, Edwards told IPS.
“I recently met three researchers from India who were spending a year at the Harvard University Herbaria to learn about their native plants,” he said. The Herbaria has five million plant specimens from around the world, comprising the eighth largest collection.
In a few years’ time, all that information and much more will be on the Encyclopedia of Life (EoL) website.
“We will finally be able to get a big picture view of life on Earth and be able to see the changes through time, which will be a fantastic resource to monitor the impacts of climate change,” Edwards said.
Over the next 10 years, and at an estimated cost of 100 million dollars, the Encyclopedia of Life will create Internet pages for all 1.8 million species currently named. It will also expedite the classification of the millions of species yet to be discovered and catalogued. The pages will provide written information and, when available, photographs, video, sound, location maps, and other multimedia information on each species.
The only country with something similar to the EoL is Mexico’s CONABIO biodiversity database, which has enabled Mexico to know where to look for impacts of climate change or invasive species, and where not to grow genetically engineered crops, among many other uses, Edwards said.
Ralph E. Gomory, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a U.S. organisation that contributed 2.5 million dollars, said, “The Encyclopedia of Life will provide the citizens of the world a ‘macroscope’ of almost unimaginable power to find and create understanding of biodiversity across the globe.”
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