The spiraling fractal branches link 2.2 million living species on Earth into the most complete tree of life ever created.
“It allows people to find their favorite living things, whether they’re golden moles or giant sequoias, and see how the story of evolution connects them to create a giant tree of all life on Earth.” , explained Yan Wong, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford.
The amazing interactive OneZoom website allows us to explore the relationships between all of the flavors of life currently recognized by science.
“We hope to give people a whole new way to appreciate the evolutionary history and the vastness of life on Earth in all its beauty,” said James Rosindell, biodiversity researcher at Imperial College London. .
“Two million species may seem like too large a number to visualize, and no museum or zoo can hold them all! But our tool can help represent all of Earth’s species and allow visitors to connect with them. fate. “
Zooming in from the “tree” of the larger taxonomic groups to the smallest of the chaotic fractals, each “leaf” of the tree represents a species. A sheet contains the scientific and common names of a species (accessible in multiple languages), and clicking on the name brings up a list of options for more information, including Wikipedia and Encyclopedia of Life entries and access genetic information.
The tree also includes public domain images of more than 85,000 species, which the creators encourage people to use.
The project is registered as a non-profit charity and has already been viewed by almost 1.5 million unique users. It relies on people who “adopt” cash to fund it. To date, 800 people are sponsors, which allows them to write a name or a message on the sheet representing the species.
The leaves are also color coded from green to red to indicate how vulnerable each species is to extinction. But many of the leaves remain gray, indicating how vast our knowledge gap still is.
“It’s amazing how much research there is still to do,” Wong said.
“We have worked hard to make the tree easy for everyone to explore, and we also hope to send a powerful message: that much of our biodiversity is under threat,” Rosindell added.
Detailing how they created OneZoom in their new article, Wong and Rosindell organized species based on their genetic relationships with each other (phylogeny) rather than traditional taxonomy, so that it better reflects the history of evolution.
For example, traditional classifications like “fish” do not reflect the true relationships between species, as mammals are more closely related to certain fish than some fish are to each other.
This massive creation of big data beauty also has some fun features like a species popularity index.
“Unsurprisingly, humans come out on top, but it has changed places a few times with the second most popular: the gray wolf – the ‘species’ that includes all domestic dogs,” Wong said. The most popular plant is cannabis, which is next hilariously followed by cabbage.
Even this feature could be scientifically useful.
“The popularity index has the potential to inform conservation efforts, especially when evidence of increased or decreased public interest is required,” the researchers wrote in their article.
It took more than 10 years for Wong and his colleagues to put all the databases together and figure out how to display them in an accessible way, but there is still a long way to go.
“With this work, we believe we have achieved the original 2012 vision for OneZoom, to create a ‘Google Earth of Biology’: a comprehensive and engaging tree of life explorer accessible to all as a community resource,” wrote the ‘team.
It is possible that OneZoom could help scientists discover new patterns in nature and educate people about evolution, biodiversity and conservation, and plan to facilitate guided tours of the tree made by volunteers to help involve the public.
“We hope that now this project is complete and available, many sites will be interested in using it to complement their existing screens,” said Rosindell.
The team’s research has been published in Methods in ecology and evolution, and the tree of life can be explored on OneZoom.org.