Encyclopedia of Life

Last updated
Encyclopedia of Life
EOL logo.svg
Type of site
Available in
Created by Field Museum
Harvard University
MacArthur Foundation
Marine Biological Laboratory
Missouri Botanical Garden
Sloan Foundation
Smithsonian Institution
URL eol.org OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
LaunchedFebruary 26, 2008;15 years ago (2008-02-26)
Current statusActive

The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is a free, online encyclopedia intended to document all of the 1.9 million living species known to science. It aggregates content to form "page"s for every known species. Content is compiled from existing trusted databases which are curated by experts and it calls on the assistance of non-experts throughout the world. [1] [2] It includes video, sound, images, graphics, information on characteristics, as well as text. [3] In addition, the Encyclopedia incorporates species-related content from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which digitizes millions of pages of printed literature from the world's major natural history libraries. The BHL digital content is indexed with the names of organisms using taxonomic indexing software developed by the Global Names project. The EOL project was initially backed by a US$50 million funding commitment, led by the MacArthur Foundation and the Sloan Foundation, who provided US$20 million and US$5 million, respectively. The additional US$25 million came from five cornerstone institutions—the Field Museum, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the Smithsonian Institution. The project was initially led by Jim Edwards [4] and the development team by David Patterson. Today, participating institutions and individual donors continue to support EOL through financial contributions.[ citation needed ]



EOL went live on 26 February 2008 with 30,000 entries. [5] The site immediately proved to be extremely popular, and temporarily had to revert to demonstration pages for two days when over 11 million views of it were requested.

The site relaunched on 5 September 2011 with a redesigned interface and tools. The new version – referred to as EOLv2 – was developed in response to requests from the general public, citizen scientists, educators and professional biologists for a site that was more engaging, accessible and personal. EOLv2 is redesigned to enhance usability and encourage contributions and interactions among users. It is also internationalized with interfaces provided for English, German, Spanish, French, Galician, Serbian, Macedonian, Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Ukrainian language speakers. On 16 January 2014, EOL launched TraitBank, a searchable, open digital repository for organism traits, measurements, interactions and other facts for all taxa. [6]

The initiative's executive committee includes senior officers from the Atlas of Living Australia, the Biodiversity Heritage Library consortium, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, CONABIO, Field Museum, Harvard University, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria), MacArthur Foundation, Marine Biological Laboratory, Missouri Botanical Garden, Sloan Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution. [7]


Information about many species is already available from a variety of sources, in particular about the megafauna. Gathering currently available data on all 1.9 million species will take about 10 years. [8] As of September 2011, EOL had information on more than 700,000 species available, along with more than 600,000 photos and millions of pages of scanned literature. The initiative relies on indexing information compiled by other efforts, including the Sp2000 and ITIS, Catalogue of Life, Fishbase and the Assembling Tree of Life project of NSF, AmphibiaWeb, Mushroom explorer, micro*scope, etc. The initial focus has been on living species but will later include extinct species. As the discovery of new species is expected to continue (currently at about 20,000 per year), the encyclopedia will continue to grow. As taxonomy finds new ways to include species discovered by molecular techniques, the rate of new additions will increase, particularly in respect to the microbial work of (eu)bacteria, archaebacteria and viruses.[ citation needed ]EOL's goal is to serve as a resource for the general public, enthusiastic amateurs, educators, students and professional scientists from around the world. [2]

Resources and collaborations

The Encyclopedia of Life is an aggregative environment, that collects data from other on-line data sources. It provides full provenance for information through citations from its trusted databases. Professional researchers publishing academic research should cite directly to the underlying data. [9] Users may not currently edit EOL's entries directly but may register for the site to join specialist expert communities to discuss relevant information, questions, possible corrections, sources, and potential updates, contribute images and sound, or volunteer for technical support services. [10] Its interface is translated at translatewiki.net.[ clarification needed ]

EoL was made distinctive by its incorporation of 'taxonomic intelligence', [11] [12] a growing array of algorithms that sought to emulate the practices of taxonomists. These tools included names resolution so that data entered into different databases using different names for organisms could be combined. Components of hierarchical classifications systems could be used to drill-down or to expand data searches. Common components of different classification schemes were used to allow users to navigate using multiple classifications and to meander among schemes. This initiative overcame a major problem of many biological data bases, [13] that of having rigid and singular classification structures that were unable to reflect the diversity of views, or evolving concepts of how names of species and other taxa should be interpreted. The names management systems continue to be developed by the Global Names project.

See also

Related Research Articles

In biology, phylogenetics is the study of the evolutionary history and relationships among or within groups of organisms. These relationships are determined by phylogenetic inference methods that focus on observed heritable traits, such as DNA sequences, protein amino acid sequences, or morphology. The result of such an analysis is a phylogenetic tree—a diagram containing a hypothesis of relationships that reflects the evolutionary history of a group of organisms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Systematics</span> Branch of biology

Systematics is the study of the diversification of living forms, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time. Relationships are visualized as evolutionary trees. Phylogenies have two components: branching order and branch length. Phylogenetic trees of species and higher taxa are used to study the evolution of traits and the distribution of organisms (biogeography). Systematics, in other words, is used to understand the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

In biology, taxonomy is the scientific study of naming, defining (circumscribing) and classifying groups of biological organisms based on shared characteristics. Organisms are grouped into taxa and these groups are given a taxonomic rank; groups of a given rank can be aggregated to form a more inclusive group of higher rank, thus creating a taxonomic hierarchy. The principal ranks in modern use are domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is regarded as the founder of the current system of taxonomy, as he developed a ranked system known as Linnaean taxonomy for categorizing organisms and binomial nomenclature for naming organisms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biological database</span>

Biological databases are libraries of biological sciences, collected from scientific experiments, published literature, high-throughput experiment technology, and computational analysis. They contain information from research areas including genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, microarray gene expression, and phylogenetics. Information contained in biological databases includes gene function, structure, localization, clinical effects of mutations as well as similarities of biological sequences and structures.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Integrated Taxonomic Information System</span> Authoritative taxonomic information on plants, animals, fungi, and microbes

The Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) is an American partnership of federal agencies designed to provide consistent and reliable information on the taxonomy of biological species. ITIS was originally formed in 1996 as an interagency group within the US federal government, involving several US federal agencies, and has now become an international body, with Canadian and Mexican government agencies participating. The database draws from a large community of taxonomic experts. Primary content staff are housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and IT services are provided by a US Geological Survey facility in Denver. The primary focus of ITIS is North American species, but many biological groups exist worldwide and ITIS collaborates with other agencies to increase its global coverage.

<i>Trachycephalus</i> Genus of amphibians

Trachycephalus is a genus of frogs, commonly known as the casque-headed tree frogs, in the family Hylidae. They are found in Mexico, Central America, and South America. In a recent revision, the seven species of the genus Phrynohyas were included in this genus, and Phrynohyas is now considered a synonym of Trachycephalus. These frogs inhabit the canopies of tropical rainforests, where they breed in tree cavities, and seldom, if ever, descend to the ground.

<i>Nectophryne</i> Genus of amphibians

Nectophryne, or African tree toads, is a small genus of true toads with only two species. They are native to West and Central Africa: Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, northeastern Congo, Bioko and Equatorial Guinea. Nectophryne afra uses small bodies of water to lay its eggs which are then guarded by the male.

The Animal Diversity Web (ADW) is a non-profit online database site that collects natural history, classification, species characteristics, conservation biology, and distribution information on species of animals. The website includes photographs, sound clips, and a virtual museum.

Biodiversity informatics is the application of informatics techniques to biodiversity information, such as taxonomy, biogeography or ecology. It is defined as the application of Information technology technologies to management, algorithmic exploration, analysis and interpretation of primary data regarding life, particularly at the species level organization. Modern computer techniques can yield new ways to view and analyze existing information, as well as predict future situations. Biodiversity informatics is a term that was only coined around 1992 but with rapidly increasing data sets has become useful in numerous studies and applications, such as the construction of taxonomic databases or geographic information systems. Biodiversity informatics contrasts with "bioinformatics", which is often used synonymously with the computerized handling of data in the specialized area of molecular biology.

The Zoological Record (ZR) is an electronic index of zoological literature that also serves as the unofficial register of scientific names in zoology.

The Catalogue of Life is an online database that provides an index of known species of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms. It was created in 2001 as a partnership between the global Species 2000 and the American Integrated Taxonomic Information System. The Catalogue is used by research scientists, citizen scientists, educators, and policy makers. The Catalogue is also used by the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Barcode of Life Data System, Encyclopedia of Life, and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The Catalogue currently compiles data from 165 peer-reviewed taxonomic databases that are maintained by specialist institutions around the world. As of September 2022, the COL Checklist lists 2,067,951 of the world's 2.2m extant species known to taxonomists on the planet at present time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biodiversity Heritage Library</span> Discipline-oriented digital libraries

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is the world’s largest open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives. BHL operates as a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries working together to address this challenge by digitizing the natural history literature held in their collections and making it freely available for open access as part of a global "biodiversity community". The BHL consortium works with the international taxonomic community, publishers, bioinformaticians, and information technology professionals to develop tools and services to facilitate greater access, interoperability, and reuse of content and data. BHL provides a range of services, data exports, and APIs to allow users to download content, harvest source data files, and reuse materials for research purposes. Through taxonomic intelligence tools developed by Global Names Architecture, BHL indexes the taxonomic names throughout the collection, allowing researchers to locate publications about specific taxa. In partnership with the Internet Archive and through local digitization efforts, BHL's portal provides free access to hundreds of thousands of volumes, comprising over 59 million pages, from the 15th-21st centuries.

The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) is a taxonomic database that aims to provide an authoritative and comprehensive list of names of marine organisms.

A taxonomic database is a database created to hold information on biological taxa – for example groups of organisms organized by species name or other taxonomic identifier – for efficient data management and information retrieval. Taxonomic databases are routinely used for the automated construction of biological checklists such as floras and faunas, both for print publication and online; to underpin the operation of web-based species information systems; as a part of biological collection management ; as well as providing, in some cases, the taxon management component of broader science or biology information systems. They are also a fundamental contribution to the discipline of biodiversity informatics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Measurement of biodiversity</span> Empirical measurement

Conservation biologists have designed a variety of objective means to empirically measure biodiversity. Each measure of biodiversity relates to a particular use of the data. For practical conservationists, measurements should include a quantification of values that are commonly shared among locally affected organisms, including humans. For others, a more economically defensible definition should allow the ensuring of continued possibilities for both adaptation and future use by humans, assuring environmental sustainability.

Plazi is a Swiss-based international non-profit association supporting and promoting the development of persistent and openly accessible digital bio-taxonomic literature. Plazi is cofounder of the Biodiversity Literature Repository and is maintaining this digital taxonomic literature repository at Zenodo to provide access to FAIR data converted from taxonomic publications using the TreatmentBank service, enhances submitted taxonomic treatments by creating a version in the XML format Taxpub, and educates about the importance of maintaining open access to scientific discourse and data. It is a contributor to the evolving e-taxonomy in the field of Biodiversity Informatics.

AnimalBase is a project brought to life in 2004 and is maintained by the University of Göttingen, Germany. The goal of the AnimalBase project is to digitize early zoological literature, provide copyright-free open access to zoological works, and provide manually verified lists of names of zoological genera and species as a free resource for the public. AnimalBase contributed to opening up the classical taxonomic literature, which is considered as useful because access to early literature can be difficult for researchers who need the old sources for their taxonomic research.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Outline of evolution</span>

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to evolution:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Interim Register of Marine and Nonmarine Genera</span> Taxonomic database

The Interim Register of Marine and Nonmarine Genera (IRMNG) is a taxonomic database which attempts to cover published genus names for all domains of life, from 1758 in zoology up to the present, arranged in a single, internally consistent taxonomic hierarchy, for the benefit of Biodiversity Informatics initiatives plus general users of biodiversity (taxonomic) information. In addition to containing just over 500,000 published genus name instances as at May 2023, the database holds over 1.7 million species names, although this component of the data is not maintained in as current or complete state as the genus-level holdings. IRMNG can be queried online for access to the latest version of the dataset and is also made available as periodic snapshots or data dumps for import/upload into other systems as desired. The database was commenced in 2006 at the then CSIRO Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research in Australia and, since 2016, has been hosted at the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) in Belgium.


  1. "Encyclopedia of Life – Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History". naturalhistory.si.edu. Retrieved 2021-11-19.
  2. 1 2 "EOL History". Eol.org. 2012-02-28. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
  3. Odling-Smee, Lucy (2007). "Encyclopedia of Life launched". Nature. doi: 10.1038/news070508-7 . S2CID   162249088 . Retrieved 2007-05-09.
  4. "James Edwards – Encyclopedia of Life". Eol.org. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
  5. Zimmer, Carl (2008-02-26). "The Encyclopedia of Life, No Bookshelf Required". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
  6. "TraitBank: Practical semantics for organism attribute data". Semantic-web-journal.net. 2014-03-28. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
  7. "Scientists compile 'book of life'". BBC News. 2007-05-09. Retrieved 2007-05-09.
  8. "Encyclopédie de la vie: Une arche de Noé virtuelle!". Radio-Canada. 9 May 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-12.
  9. "Encyclopedia of Life". eol.org. Retrieved 2021-11-19.
  10. "Encyclopedia of Life". eol.org. Retrieved 2021-11-19.
  11. Patterson. D. J., Remsen, D., Norton, C., Marino, W. 2006. Taxonomic Indexing—extending the role of Taxonomy. Systematic Biology, 55: 367-373.
  12. Patterson, D. J., Cooper, J., Kirk, P. M. and Remsen D. P. 2010. Names are key to the big new biology. TREE doi:10.1016/j.tree.2010.09.004
  13. Nico M Franz, Beckett W Sterner, To increase trust, change the social design behind aggregated biodiversity data, Database, Volume 2018, 2018, bax100, https://doi.org/10.1093/database/bax100