Free, authoritative and online: 1.8 million species

carolina-anole-lizard-sml-john-sullivan-aol.jpgBy Stephen Leahy

Feb 27 (IPS) – Free, authoritative and online: 1.8 million species.

That is the ultimate goal of the Encyclopedia of Life project, which put its first 30,000 species on the Internet this week. This ambitious global project will provide the details of every known species — habitat, range, lifecycle, pictures and more — and archive everything online so anyone can access this important information about life on Earth.

From sharks to mushrooms to bacteria, the Encyclopedia of Life will provide scientifically verified information that will satisfy both a grade school child’s american-burying-beetle-doug-backlund-aol.jpegcuriosity or enable a university researcher — or amateur naturalist — to make a scientific breakthrough, says James Edward, new executive director of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) project headquartered in Washington at the Smithsonian Institution.

Each species page has a built in content slider that allows you to select how much information you want to see on the page. And there is plenty of detail, including links to at least one million pages of digitised scientific information that is normally only available in the big 10 natural history museums located in the developed world.

“Anyone can access this for free no matter where they are,” Edward told IPS.

Anyone who can read English, that is. “We’re hoping to get translations into other languages,” he added.

In the near future, there will be regional editions of the EOL: EOL Columbia or EOL Netherlands, with all information in Spanish and Dutch and provided by local experts.

Unlike traditional encyclopaedias, EOL will be interactive and continually updated. Indeed, it has the potential to become a powerful investigative tool on its own. If the public participates, the EOL could become a global species monitoring system to track responses to climate change.

grizzly-bear-sml-ondrej-zicha-aol.jpg

Around the world, species’ habitats are altering dramatically, forcing birds to migrate sooner, or becoming to dry or too hot to support certain plants. There is no chance the scientific community can keep pace with the speed and breadth of these changes. The only possible way is through observations by non-scientists who can check the EOL to see if that frog they saw this morning is in its normal habitat or has shifted its range.

“If someone in Ecuador sees a frog they’ve never seen before, they can quickly check the EOL to see if it’s endemic or from neighbouring countries. If not, then it may be a new species,” said James Hanken, director of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and chair of the EOL Steering Committee.

So many species are going extinct before they can even be identified, but the EOL will make it much easier to identify them, Hanken told IPS.

“We can’t protect things (species/habitat) without knowing what is there,” he said.

For complete article see Life Under the Macroscope

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