The Encyclopedia of Life plans to catalog all species

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

EOL_slash_pine_bannerEn route to understanding the ecological context of our human past, archaeologists tend to be interested in non-human life and plant and animal communities.

The Encyclopedia of Life is a website that seeks:

to organize and make available via the Internet virtually all information about life present on Earth. At its heart lies a series of Web sites—one for each of the approximately 1.8 million known species—that provide the entry points to this vast array of knowledge.

Further:

The EOL dynamically 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, and distribute this information through the Internet. It serves as a primary resource for a wide audience that includes scientists, natural resource managers, conservationists, teachers, and students around the world. We believe that the EOL’s encompassing scope and innovation will have a major global impact in facilitating biodiversity research, conservation, and education. [quotes from the EOL website]

The EOL is free and easy to use. You can search by common name or scientific name. The full taxonomic classification is listed for each species.

The EOL’s first 30,000 pages came online in late February 2008. That’s a drop in the bucket, since scientists estimate that there are now about 1.8 million species on Earth, including fungi, bacteria, archaea, protozoa, and viruses. The website is estimated to reach that goal in 2017.

The EOL invites both scientists and the general public to submit information and photos for inclusion. The EOL encourages class projects and other student participation. Numerous foundations and individual donors allowed EOL to be established and support its continued development.

The EOL is useful for archaeologists because of the detailed information it provides. The image above is a screen-grab of the EOL page for Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii Engelm.), which is a hard yellow pine indigenous to Georgia’s Coastal Plain. Details like this are useful to an archaeologist trying to understand an ecosystem:

The Slash Pine grows well on a variety of acidic soils in full sun or partial shade. It does poorly in basic soil (high pH) and is not recommended for irrigation water has a high pH. Once established, it is more tolerant of wet sites than most other pines and is moderately salt-tolerant. It is not highly drought-tolerant, but more so than most other pines.

Visit the EOL’s website here.