Last modified on July 18, 2016, at 13:48

Encyclopedia of Life

Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Field Museum in Chicago, Harvard University, the Natural History Museum in London, England, and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, have launched a project to document every living species on the planet, including historic records held in archives.

The project is scheduled to take ten years. Researchers plan to gather all the information that exists on the 1.8 million known species to build up an internet-based Encyclopedia of Life. This encyclopedia, which will be the most comprehensive possible store of knowledge about the species that inhabit Earth, will be freely available to everyone who can access the World Wide Web. Included in the descriptions will be all known information about habitats, behavior, genetic make-up and populations.

Biologists believe that this will both improve the ability of taxonomists to describe up to 100 million known species as yet not fully described and named and make it easier to identify potential dangers from species such as non-native invasive plants and animals, and to describe threats to biodiversity.

Information already existing on the internet will be gathered by software programs called 'bots', and will be checked by experts before becoming web pages for the encyclopedia. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $100m.

The British Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband, described the project as a "unique endeavour. What could be more appropriate for a world that is more and more connected, where issues of climate change, issues of biodiversity, join us together over national and natural boundaries?"[1]