Many of the world's leading scientific institutions announced the May 9 launch of the Encyclopedia of Life, an unprecedented global effort to document all 1.8 million named species of animals, plants, and other forms of life on Earth. For the first time in the history of the planet, scientists, students, and citizens will have multi-media access to all known living species, even those that have just been discovered.
"The Encyclopedia of Life will provide valuable biodiversity and conservation information to anyone, anywhere, at any time," said Dr. James Edwards, currently Executive Secretary of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
The Field Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, Marine Biological Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution, and Biodiversity Heritage Library joined together to initiate the project, bringing together species and software experts from across the world. The Missouri Botanical Garden has become a full partner, and discussions are taking place this week with leaders of the new Atlas of Living Australia. The Encyclopedia also announced the initial membership of its Institutional Council, which spans the globe, and whose members will play key roles in realizing this immense project. An international advisory board of distinguished individuals will also help guide the Encyclopedia.
The effort is spurred by a $10 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and $2.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and will ultimately serve as a global beacon for biodiversity and conservation.
"Through collaboration, we all can increase our appreciation of the immense variety of life, the challenges to it, and ways to conserve biodiversity" said Dr. Edwards, who has been named executive director of the Encyclopedia of Life. "The Encyclopedia of Life will ultimately make high-quality, well-organized information available on an unprecedented level. Even five years ago, we could not create such a resource, but advances in technology for searching, annotating, and visualizing information now permit us, indeed mandate us to build the Encyclopedia of Life.
Over the next 10 years, the Encyclopedia of Life will create Internet pages for all 1.8 million species currently named. It will expedite the classification of the millions of species yet to be discovered and cataloged as well. The pages will provide written information and, when available, photographs, video, sound, location maps, and other multimedia information on each species. Built on the scientific integrity of thousands of experts around the globe, the Encyclopedia will be a moderated wiki-style environment, freely available to all users everywhere.