250 Years of Research Makes One Encyclopedia of Life

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Mother Earth News recently attended the annual Bioneers conference in San Rafael, Calif., where we met the movers and shakers of the environmental movement and came away with a wealth of fun, exciting and inspiring ideas to share with you. To start things off, a look at the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), which was presented by Marie Studer, Ph.D., EOL’s director of education and outreach.

According to Dr. E.O. Wilson, scientists have only just begun cataloging the Earth’s species. Karl Linneus started the classification system a mere 250 years ago, and it’s estimated that today only 10 percent — 1.8 million — of the Earth’s species have been named. There may be 10 to 100 million unamed species in the world, depending on the classification of bacteria.

Seeing an opportunity to connect researchers and make available data collected over multiple generations and continents, Dr. Wilson — a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Harvard research professor — created the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), to “organize and make available via the Internet virtually all information about life present on Earth.” (Read The New York Times’ interview with Dr. Wilson about the EOL.)

According to the Web site, the EOL “synthesizes biodiversity knowledge about all known species, including their taxonomy, geographic distribution, collections, genetics, evolutionary history, morphology, behavior, ecological relationships and importance for human well being.” The site works somewhat like Wikipedia in that individuals, libraries and academic departments can access the collected research of generations of scientists and contribute their own findings, as well. 

While the EOL accepts listings and entire databases from libraries and research facilities, their goal is ambitious and will require the discovery and naming talents of generations of curious seekers, both professional and amateur — which is why you’re invited to participate. Whether you’re a student, teacher or hobbyist, you can contribute photos, text or video. Learn more at the EOL About page, see how other people are using the Encyclopedia, and find out how you can Help Build the Encyclopedia of Life.